Greenville’s Peace Center Looks to a Future of Artistic Programming

Last year, the Peace Center in Greenville celebrated 25 years as the centerpiece of the successful downtown revitalization effort, and the state’s largest arts organization is looking forward to the next quarter century of fulfilling its mission to “[present] the world’s finest performers, [provide] arts education and outreach, and [support] local arts organizations” in order to “further the cultural advancement, arts appreciation, and economic development in our region.”

The idea for a performing arts center in Greenville was first formulated back in 1978, when it was proposed by the Greenville Metropolitan Arts Council. In 1985, a task force was convened to determine how much such a venture would cost, and it was suggested that a public–private partnership would be ideal.

The center is named for the Peace family, whose common ancestor Bony Hampton Peace established the family legacy in 1919 when he purchased a downtown newspaper and changed its name to the Greenville News. His sons, Roger and B. H., Jr., built on that legacy, and it was their surviving spouses and children, along with those of their sister Francis Peace Graham, who together donated $10 million—about a quarter of the cost to build the center—to kick off the fund-raising effort for what would become the Peace Center.

Approximately 70% of the funds were raised privately—including $50,000 in pennies raised by Greenville school children for the purchase of a Steinway grand piano—with the rest funded by the city, county, and state.

Ground broke on the facility in September of 1998, and just over two years later, in November of 1990, the doors opened for the first time with a founders’ gala, “First Night at Peace.” Later that month, a grand opening gala was held, followed by the first public performances.

That first year, 75,000 people attended 45 events. Twenty-five years later, 318 ticketed events drew 287,100 visitors to the Peace Center in the 2014–2015 season.

The Peace Center’s events range from touring Broadway shows and national dance company performances to the family-friendly POP! Youth Performance Series in the smaller Gunter Theater; musical performances include classical chamber music as well as popular music acts—Gregg Allman, Lyle Lovett, and Seal are among the artists scheduled to perform in the main auditorium later this summer.

The youth performances are only a part of the educational outreach that is a vital part of the Peace Center’s mission. Master classes and camps, teacher development workshops, and Peace Voices—a spoken word program headed by poet-in-residence Glenis Redmond—are some of the outreach programs aimed at engaging children and teens in the arts.

While most people think of the eye-catching building on the corner of Broad and Main Streets and facing the Reedy River as the Peace Center, the fine arts center actually encompasses a six-acre campus with seven buildings, including Wyche Pavilion, the open air brick structure that is a popular wedding and event venue, and the 8,000 square-foot Huguenot Loft, a restored 19th century textile mill. The TD Stage, an outdoor venue with seating for 1200 people, is the setting for the summer Rock the River concert series. It opened in 2012 with a concert from Vince Gill.

The Peace Center is without question an economic driver in the area. The thriving restaurant scene that exists in downtown Greenville is largely due to the presence of the Peace Center. Carl Sobocinski, owner of Table 301 restaurant group in Greenville, opened Soby’s around the same time the Peace Center opened. “At the time,” he says, “there weren’t fine dining options downtown, and I knew if a couple was going to come into town to see a show at the just-opened Peace Center, they’d enjoy having dinner before the show.” Today there are numerous restaurant choices for concert-goers, including a small-plate and cocktail eatery that is part of the Peace Center—Genevieve’s Theater Lounge.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary last year, Peace Center President and CEO Megan Riegel said, “As we celebrate a successful 25 years, we look ahead to meeting the needs and goals of the next 25 years. Through our pursuit of artistic excellence and high standards, the Peace Center remains committed to providing Greenville and the region with an exceptional quality of service, facilities, and programming which are sure to be enjoyed by future generations.”

Photos courtesy of the Peace Center. Wyche Pavilion photo by John Macaluso; all others by Brenda Ernst.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.

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