COLUMBIA, S.C. – Ken May will retire from leading the South Carolina Arts Commission in 2019 after 33 years working to improve equity in and access to the state’s arts, culture, and traditions. 

May, executive director for the past nine years, carved out his niche by leading the arts commission’s efforts to provide equal access to publicly funded grants and programs. Under his leadership, the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) earned bipartisan support, and it is widely considered a driver of the state’s $9.7 billion creative economy.

With a new legislative session just beginning, May is to remain in place to shepherd the SCAC’s legislative agenda before stepping away at the end of June.

“Early in my working life, after a few years in for-profit business, I became sure of two things: that I wanted to work in the arts, which have always been my passion, and that I wanted to be of service—to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Working at the South Carolina Arts Commission has given me an extraordinary opportunity to do both of those things, and I am deeply grateful for that,” May said.

When May became director of the Commission in 2010, the agency faced significant challenges from a severe economic downturn and a hostile political climate. Under his leadership, the agency rallied its supporters, weathered the political storm, and emerged leaner and better-funded to meet its mandate of service to all South Carolinians.

In the most recent fiscal year, the SCAC distributed more than $4 million in grants to 44 of 46 counties. Through staff assistance, partnerships, programs, and grants, the agency served all 46 counties in the areas of community arts development, artist career development, and arts education initiatives.

“Ken has served our state admirably during a distinguished career, and he cares deeply and works tirelessly to advance the arts in South Carolina,” SCAC Board of Directors Chairman Henry Horowitz of Greenville said. “This is a loss for the statewide arts community, but it has advanced to lofty places and serves more citizens and visitors because of Ken’s hard, diligent work. He’s leaving the agency in a great position with a terrific reputation on state and national levels.”

Throughout his long tenure at the Arts Commission, May played a key role in shaping the agency’s signature programs and initiatives. He was one of the principal architects of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project, which has driven statewide improvement in arts education for all students for more than 30 years, and he continues as the longest-serving member of that project’s coordinating committee. As primary grant writer for the commission, May designed and secured funding for major initiatives to use the arts for rural community development, enhance community design, build public participation in the arts, and help artists build sustainable working lives in South Carolina. He also led long range planning and directed agency efforts to bring grantmaking into the digital age and to make grant processes more transparent and equitable.

Presently, May is expanding the SCAC’s national profile by serving on nationwide boards for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and Grantmakers in the Arts. He also serves on the board for South Arts, a consortium of nine southern state arts agencies based in Atlanta. His recent focus on those boards has been to help funders work toward equity in the distributions of grant funds and other resources.

Incoming SCAC Board Chairwoman Dee Crawford of Aiken will assume leadership on July 1. She praised May’s work.

“Ken guided the Arts Commission to make significant progress in several rural South Carolina communities. The ‘Art of Community: Rural S.C.’ program is a national model for others to find success using the arts to revitalize places where other solutions failed. Our artists are turning into entrepreneurs, helping themselves make sustainable careers and changing the outlook in their communities,” Crawford said. “We, the commissioners, appreciate Ken’s dedication and leadership.”

A nationwide search is underway to fill the executive director position, which has been posted with a full job description. Crawford hopes a new executive director is in place by the time May leaves. She is hopeful the next executive director expands on the work in rural communities and makes it a goal to develop more leaders in the arts statewide.

 ABOUT THE SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS COMMISSION

With a commitment to excellence across the spectrum of our state’s cultures and forms of expression, the South Carolina Arts Commission pursues its public charge to develop a thriving arts environment, which is essential to quality of life, education, and economic vitality for all South Carolinians. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants, and leadership initiatives in three areas: 

  • arts education, 
  • community arts development,
  • and artist development.

 Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call 803.734.8696. 

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