Phifer-Johnson Foundation/The Johnson Collection Receives State’s Highest Art Award – Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award

The Phifer-Johnson Foundation/The Johnson Collection has been named the recipient of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner 2016 Business/Foundation Award, by the South Carolina Arts Commission. The Johnson Foundation was nominated by Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg, SC.

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The Johnsons with Gov. Haley

The Johnson Foundation received the award Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at a ceremony at the Statehouse in Columbia, SC. The Foundation received a handcrafted bronze statue, designed by Columbia-based artist Jean McWhorter.

The Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Awards recognize outstanding achievement and contributions to the arts in South Carolina, and are the highest honor the state gives in the arts. These awards honor South Carolina arts organizations, patrons, artists, members of the business community, and government entities who maximize their roles as innovators, supporters and advocates of the arts. In 1980, the Verner Awards took on a special significance with their designation as the official “Governor’s Awards for the Arts.”

“On behalf of Chapman Cultural Center’s artists and patrons, we are thrilled that the Johnsons have been recognized as leaders in the supports of the arts, not only in Spartanburg, but through out South Carolina, the South, and the nation,” Chapman President and CEO Jennifer Evins said. “Over the years, the Johnsons have supported the arts with their wisdom, influence, resources, and time. We can never thank them enough. Receiving this award speaks to the world-class appreciation of and commitment to the arts that the Johnsons have.”

When Susu and George Johnson’s personal art collection outgrew their home and office space, they decided to share it. What began as an interest in paintings by Carolina artists in 2002 has grown to encompass over 1,200 objects that chronicle the cultural evolution of the American South. Three scholarly books have been published around the Johnson Collection’s holdings. Each of the books is accompanied by a touring exhibition that travels to leading museums in South Carolina and across the South for two to four years. In contrast to most touring shows, the Johnsons share these exhibitions with all participating museums at no cost. These efforts to provide broad access to the arts for free have attracted national attention from such prominent publications as “American Art Review”, “The Magazine Antiques” and “Garden & Gun”. A website for the collection features images and notes on hundreds of Southern artists and a searchable catalog of the collection’s library of over 4,000 volumes. The collection’s curator serves as a visiting scholar and lecturer at local colleges, and students are invited to apply for curatorial internships. A gallery in downtown Spartanburg presents regular exhibitions from the collection and loans artwork to a variety of public and educational institutions, making the collection highly accessible to the public.

The Johnsons’ philanthropic commitment to community, arts and culture extends beyond the Johnson Collection to support local and statewide arts programs and initiatives. The Phifer-Johnson Foundation is a major benefactor of the South Carolina First Novel Prize, which is establishing a national profile for South Carolina’s most promising writers. They have been important to the success of Spartanburg’s Chapman Cultural Center, a centerpiece in Spartanburg’s active cultural scene. They are key supporters of arts organizations and activities that add vibrancy and attract youth and talent to their community, including the Hub-Bub Artist in Residence Program, Ballet Spartanburg, the Music Foundation of Spartanburg, Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Brookgreen Gardens, and more. Equally dedicated to arts advancement and arts accessibility, the Johnsons generously share their vision, energy, passion and resources to benefit the arts in South Carolina.

Elizabeth O’Neill Verner achieved an international reputation for her etchings and pastels, many of which capture the spirit of the South Carolina Lowcountry. She was also a teacher, writer and historian. Throughout her 96 years, Mrs. Verner traveled abroad extensively. Drawings of South Carolina residences, churches and street-life portraits are Verner trademarks recognized throughout the world for the way they capture South Carolina’s unique people and architecture. Mrs. Verner’s studio is located on Tradd Street in Charleston, SC.

Other 2016 Verner Awards include Charleston artist Mary Edna Fraser, Executive Director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance Betty Plumb, arts education agency Joye In Aiken, government agency The City of Greenville, and arts organization The Columbia Museum of Art. Special recognition was given to Hootie and the Blowfish, and writer/poet Nikky Finney.

For further info call Steve Wong, Marketing Director, Chapman Cultural Center, Spartanburg, SC. at 864/278-9698 or e-mail to (sWong@SpartanArts.org).

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