February 19, 2016
On a chilly January afternoon, Dot Ryall, a USC alumna and Columbia philanthropist, shares her hopes for public art in the Midlands. The room holds a gallery-sized collection of her art, collected over many years. Her taste and interests are eclectic. The presentation of paintings and sculptures is at once elegant and inviting, and the excitement and passion in her voice as she relates her personal connection to the artwork breathes life into each piece. Just as Ryall has filled her Columbia home with art, she hopes to do the same for the Carolina community.
Ryall has been immersed in the arts since an early age. Her mother, a painter, gave Ryall both an appreciation and passion for painting and sculpture, and an understanding of how the arts can enhance an entire community. As a patron of the arts, Ryall turned that passion into something tangible for the Midlands. Some of her projects can be viewed through the Cancer Survivors Plaza, the Palmetto Tree Project and the Open Doors Project.
After serving more than 19 years as the Executive Director on the board of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties, Ryall has focused her efforts on finding sponsors or donors for public art on the University of South Carolina campus. “Public art is as important to your well being as academics because it fuels your inner self,” said Ryall. “It feeds you and also makes you better at expressing your outer self.”
It’s well known that public art enhances a community and drives the business world around it. Among many examples, The National Governors Association has published numerous studies on the connection between the arts and economic development. A 2011 article published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston highlighted the power of the arts to revive communities, noting that these efforts frequently require support from the business community. In the same year, the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation highlighted public-private collaboration supporting the arts and community revitalization. And an article in The Atlantic explored the key role of the arts in transforming Pittsburgh from rust into one of the nation’s most livable cities.
For many of these reasons, it was not only important but also essential to Ryall that the University of South Carolina acquires its own collection of world-class public art. Ryall recounts her 2013 conversation with President Harris Pastides that sparked the public art movement on campus. “I shared with him my concern that USC was lacking public art whilst other major universities had complete collections,” Dot said with a smile. “And he listened.”
The first addition of public art to the campus, inspired by that conversation, is here at the Moore School. In 2014, Mexican artist Leonardo Nierman’s “Eternal Flame” sculpture was placed in the Moore School’s Charles S. Way, Jr. Palmetto Courtyard with support from Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.
In May 2013, Pastides, Dean Hildy Teegen and Ryall traveled to Mexico City to visit with Nierman. After two exhaustive days of contemplation of over 50 different pieces, Pastides ultimately made the decision of the “Eternal Flame” sculpture.
“This piece really spoke to Harris,” said Ryall. “It captures the spirit of the Moore
School. The grace, the energy and the light lift spirits. It represents activity.
Take that education you earn at the Moore School and let it burn through your lives.”
Colonial Life President and CEO, Tim Arnold recognized the benefits this sculpture would bring to the community. “We know excellent education and a thriving arts culture are important to a vibrant business community. Colonial Life has had a strong partnership with the business school for many years. So working with the university to sponsor this sculpture placement was a great fit for us.”
Ryall hopes that her contributions in assisting the university acquire public art will act as a catalyst to those in the area. “I hope public art becomes a norm in new construction on campus,” said Ryall. “This art will help build a sense of pride in students and alumni alike. To think that the very university they studied at owns such world-class art is very special.”
By Jessika Markland