From roots to renaissance: Manning Avenue Free Art Studio will expand in South Sumter


The sunny afternoon of Friday, May 31, marked the beginning of a new chapter for the arts in South Sumter.

Folks from across the county gathered at the Manning Avenue Free Art Studio for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the expansion of the historic venue. This expansion is set to transform an already vital community hub into an even more significant site for creativity and support.

Ivan Sanders, executive director of the studio board and dedicated community leader, is leading the expansion of the studio, founded by his father, the late David "Pablo" Sanders. It opened in 1976, and the elder Sanders worked with youth in the neighborhood, teaching pottery, welding and various visual arts. The studio also served as one of the first Feed-A-Child program locations in the area, offering a safe haven and place for artistic expression.

The young Sanders remembered the days he and his brother would study art alongside other local kids. He watched as his father became a father figure to those who lacked one in their homes, teaching them how to play chess and be upstanding citizens. The kids, who often gave the Sanders brothers a hard time like real siblings, loved and cared for the elder as if he were one of their own.

It was that giving and receiving of love - for one another and for the arts - that sparked Ivan's desire to continue his father's legacy. He has gathered significant community members to serve on the studio board and local and state officials, such as Sumter Mayor David Merchant, South Carolina Rep. David Weeks, Sen. Thomas McElveen and S.C. House Speaker Murrell Smith, to foster a new look but savor that same feel of the beloved studio.

The expansion will include a new 8,000-square-foot building in the lot next to the current studio, made possible by federal funding, and will house four primary therapies: music engagement, visual arts therapy, progressive writing and creative movement.

"Art is such a creative way to help people. It can even cure chronic diseases," Sanders said. "I think that's missing in society today, especially to some of these kids who have no knowledge of art. I think we got a couple of artists over here that a lot of people don't know about."

Deloris Williams couldn't agree more. A grant writer and board member of the studio, Williams has played a crucial role in securing funding for the expansion - crediting Weeks for all his support in moving this project and his community forward. She emphasized the broader impact the studio expansion will have on South Sumter, calling the new structure a "magnet for the arts."

"I think it's going to bring people across that bridge over to Manning Avenue. One of the greatest impacts that it is going to have will be on preparing young people," Wiliams said. "We're giving young people some skills - young people across the spectrum, but especially young people who may need additional employment. We will have print making, screen making in there. They will be able to learn how to frame, they will be able to learn all aspects of the arts in that building."

The new building's design, although modern, will blend seamlessly with the eclectic mix of structures along the avenue. Deloris said while architecture is contemporary, it respects the historical significance of the area.

"It's very, very rare that you find an arts organization like this that's going up in what has been an economically depressed area," Williams said. Both she and Sanders are excited about the potential for the studio to foster community and creativity. The duo, their fellow board members and community leaders can hardly wait, as Sanders said, "As soon as we start tearing down, we're going to start building up."

Sanders said the timeline, from clearing off the adjacent lot to opening those grand doors, is seven months.