USC Upstate Faculty, Students Help Others in Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light

October 10, 2016 at 3:01 pm

A public art project is shedding new light on Spartanburg communities and many at the University of South Carolina Upstate have had a part in making it happen.

Last year, Spartanburg received a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge to support a temporary art project that celebrates creativity, enhances urban identity, encourages public-private partnerships, and drives economic development.

The winning project, Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light, is a culmination of months of work by city officials, law enforcement, artists, college students, community members and volunteer laborers.

The pieces of art, installed in 10 city neighborhoods, were lit October 4 as part of National Night Out, an annual event that promotes crime prevention efforts, police-community partnership and neighborhood closeness.

Dr. Tyrone Toland ’90, associate professor of Informatics, is excited about what is happening in his childhood community of Highland. The neighborhood where he once played baseball and football in the streets and flew kites in an open field had become an area many were ashamed to call home.

“A lot of things changed in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” Toland said. “Drugs started to become a real problem and unfortunately, Highland began to develop a bad reputation.”

Toland, who now lives in Boiling Springs, likes to visit his old neighborhood and family members who still live there. He loves that things are changing for the better, but is excited that the daycare he attended is still thriving just as I did when he was a kid.

“Bethlehem Center is an invaluable resource to the Highland Community,” Toland said. “Not long ago I visited the center and got to peek in the windows at the children and to see the little cubby holes where I once placed my things.”

Toland said in the recent years, the City of Spartanburg has taken an interest in Highland and has worked to clean up the area. While there’s still work to be done, “there are a lot of good things going on in Highland and I want people to know about it.”

The stories of friends and residents of Highland have been captured through a media arts laboratory at the Bethlehem Center. USC Upstate students Allie Atkins, Dana Curtis, Jasmine Lyles, Glory Michelle Pi Kaitlin Wooden and Savannah Word, all have been part of helping to tell the stories of Highland residents.

Pi, a senior mass communications major, got involved as an intern with White Elephant Enterprises, a local production company that specializes in storytelling. She said Psychology professor Beth Freeman introduced her to White Elephant owners Tim and Robyn Farrell. The introduction turned into an internship as Pi began working as a social media manager working with White Elephant clients before transitioning to the Highland Video Village Project.

During the lighting, the video clips that Pi and her fellow interns edited will be shown in the vacant windows of the former Cammie Clagett Apartments.

“Spartanburg is a growing city, changing for the better every year,” Pi said. “With more technology and resources becoming available in the area, the population will reap the benefits of the hard work volunteers have spent making the city a better place.”

Pi said her favorite part has been getting to know her fellow interns on the project, the Farrells and being able to show their work at

“All of us have something amazing to contribute,” Pi said. “I have seen how our separate talents have blended into the amazing project the Highland has become.”

Dana Curtis has served as the project manager for the video project he said that he signed up for a psychology course — Topics in Service Learning and this project really resonated with him.

“What I will take with me is that we must engage in conversation to understand what our fellow man is thinking,” Curtis said. “If we do not, then it leaves us to stereotype based upon a few ‘bad’ apples, and to find the peace we all seek, that conversation at the Highland Video Village, has now started.”

Michele Covington, assistant professor in Criminal Justice, was excited to be asked to evaluate the project.

“It didn’t take long after seeing the grant application draft to know this was definitely a project I wanted to be involved in,” she said. “I think everyone involved in this project stands to learn something about their community and themselves.”

Throughout the course of the project, Covington said she recalls many anecdotal cases where creative team members, city officials, police officials, and citizens have opened themselves up and broadened their on horizons.

“One of the really exciting things about ‘Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light’ is that the arts community, the police, and private citizens are all working alongside each other throughout the entire process,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see what can happen when all of these people get into the same room on a regular basis to work toward a common goal that everyone believes in.”

In light of recent events around the country, Covington said this project has brought a new level of communication to Spartanburg, one that she hopes will not soon dim.

“I hope that this enhanced communication will continue long after the lights are turned on because if this is the case, there is the potential for better police-community relationships, more neighborhood pride, greater arts involvement, and potentially even lower crime rates,” she said.

Covington said she has offered research assistant positions to interested students to help her with data collection and is excited about the opportunities they will have to learn what it is like to work on a big project like Seeing Spartanburg.

Learn more about Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light at

*Editor’s note: There are many others from the USC Upstate family who participated in this project, unfortunately, time and space prohibited us from sharing all of the stories from project.