S.C. Arts Commission director retires
A muggy spring breeze swept through the home of Pat and Susie VanHuss on May 26 as arts supporters from around the state gathered to honor the S.C. Arts Commission's outgoing director Susie Surkamer. Government officials, artists, and business people sampled the heavy hors d'oeuvres while show tunes played softly in the background.
Surkamer first began working with the commission in 1974 as a dancer in residence. She and a fellow artist performed modern dance works throughout the state. Three years later she made the move from artist to administrator by taking the position of arts coordinator. After giving 150 performances in one year, she was ready for a change.
"The transition for me was easy," Surkamer said. "I think the reason was when I went to college the question was should I major in business or major in dance? I always enjoyed the business aspect of things and was able to make that transition fairly easily."
It was her keen business sense mixed with a passion for the arts that characterized her 15- year tenure as executive director. According to her colleagues, she balanced the managerial pressures of the position while remaining sensitive to those around her.
"We often said if she weren't so nice, she'd be scary," acting executive director Ken May said. "When she's focused on something, she had this amazing sort of cut to the chase sort of quality, but she's also fun and has a great sense of humor."
Surkamer counts the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project, a program to promote arts education across the state, something she and May had worked on since 1987, as one of her top achievements. Also, on that list is the work the commission has done to increase involvement in the arts on every level from audience member to artist or volunteer. One of her recent projects utilized funding from Leveraging Investments in Creativity and helped provide services for South Carolina artists to become successful in their careers.
"That's something that I was very excited about and needed in the state," Surkamer said. "We've been working for a long time to be able to do that."
All these accomplishments were highlighted during the reception which included the presentation of a resolution from the S.C. House of Representatives by Rep. James Harrison. She was also given an original pine needle basket created by Clay Burnette, who was in attendance.
On May 28, Surkamer was recognized with the Chairman's Award from the Columbia Museum of Art during the membership's 93rd annual meeting.
Although Surkamer is looking forward to having more time to spend with her friends and family, she will also miss the day- to- day interaction she had with the people of South Carolina. She has vowed to remain active in the arts community by serving on several national and state committees.
"The (commission's) work that's going on throughout the state and being a part of that is probably what I will miss the most," she said.