HAVING A NETWORK OF REAL PEOPLE that gives one a sense of belonging is something we took for granted before the advent of social media. Today, we can be highly connected online but still isolated, a paradox that puts us at high risk for depression and poor health. New research, such as Harvard’s groundbreaking 80-year study on happiness, reveals that being connected to a community is as close to a well-being magic bullet as you can get.
Charleston’s cultural values are grounded in community, which is why we are friendly and happy, and many people want to live here. Our art galleries, of which there are over 50, play an essential role in keeping us plugged into one another, even in a world moving at a machine pace. Art makes us think about what it means to be human and validates our experiences. Art walks and show openings are where friends meet before dinner or run into each other and enjoy impromptu catch-ups. Art galleries are the cool babysitters for our legendary restaurant scene.
Sarah Miller Gelber, the owner of Miller Gallery, is so dialed in to this concept that she designed the space around a central seating area. She also curates contemporary art shows that demand we talk to each other about what we’re looking at.
Take last year’s Wonderwheel by Kate Hooray Osmond. On the surface, the works are a delightful romp through a playful, colorful landscape. However, at the gallery opening, we met Osmond. We found out she is also a philosopher and student of physics who rappels down buildings and hangs out of helicopters to get the aerial perspectives for her art. Then we discovered she’s also the mother of a son whose middle name is Shipwreck, and these works are her way of building a model of the systems of the universe to protect him from the terrors of the 21st century. So, yeah, we all needed to sit down and chat about that.
“Someone once said that Miller Gallery is like a modern-day French salon,” Miller Gelber says. “We constantly rotate art to start new conversations.” The gallery also hosts other events, such as poetry readings and workshops, that aren’t fine-art related. Since opening its doors three years ago, Miller Gallery has become one of Charleston’s most important cultural and community centers. “This is a place where people feel creative, they feel safe to explore and they feel heard,” she says.
Miller Gallery has developed a reputation for showcasing experimental mediums and exhibits with thoughtful narratives. This year, Two Top, Rachael Nerney and Julia Deckman’s tribute to Charleston’s culinary community, was nominated for Best Art Show by Charleston City Paper. The gallery is also developing an international reputation at art fairs for bringing a charming, small-town Charleston vibe to the scene. “It’s always a proud moment when a collector adds one of our artists to their blue-chip collection,” Miller Gelber says. “To have one of our artist’s works hanging beside a Picasso is exciting.”
As a curator, Miller Gelber is gifted with the ability to identify artists whose works speak loud enough to bring the viewer’s attention to the present moment. For example, Laura Dargan’s ab-stracts of irregular shapes and unexpected color combinations immediately start tinkering around in your brain—in a good way. Charlotte Filbert’s visceral, gestural works manage to perfectly reverberate emotions on the same frequency as a good jam turned up loud. John Duckworth’s calming, meditative photographs and paintings are a full-on spiritual experience.
Yes, you can buy art online these days, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But don’t forget how important, and how much fun, it is to experience art in a gallery, with other humans. “I want everyone to be successful. But art doesn’t look the same online as it does in person,” Miller Gelber says. “It’s important for artists to have actual exhibits and work with a curator. For an artist, having a show is like writing a chapter in the book of their creative life. Without galleries, where would we be?”
Miller Gallery has a full schedule of unexpected delights in store for Charleston this year. Bring your friends, chat up a stranger on the sofa, and connect with your community. It is scientifically proven to make you happier.*
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.