What’s the Hub-Bub in Spartanburg?

Back in 2004, a group of creative folks in Spartanburg created an online forum, HubBub.com, as a place to exchange ideas about art, politics, food, and any number of other topics. The events in the early days of Hub-Bub—ranging from the Soapbox Series at the Nuway to a Halloween prom—had the goal of creating community through the arts and through the exchange of ideas.

A couple of years in, Hub-Bub got a home thanks to help from the city of Spartanburg and private donors: the Showroom, which hosted events, exhibited artwork, and housed the artists in residence who came to live for several months at a time. But recently, in a move that coincided with an extensive rebranding process, the nonprofit moved out of the Showroom into a small office space just off of Morgan Square to shift the focus to public art and co-hosting events with local businesses. Rather than trying to bring the city to the Showroom, the city has become the showroom, with commissioned public murals and interactive events.

“What makes us different from, say, the Chapman Cultural Center is that we have an economic development angle,” says managing director Eric Kocher (who himself came to Spartanburg as one of the artists in residence). With funding provided by the city’s hospitality tax, Hub-Bub is about arts and ideas, yes—but an important element of what they do is about getting people downtown.

During the rebranding process, Kocher says he was asked to describe what Hub-Bub does in the fewest number of words he could. He and assistant director Tim Giles got it down to two: reimagine place. That reimagining, he says, means engaging with the city physically, socially, and personally. And it means finding ways for the city, local businesses, and the community to create a sense of place together.

A great example of how that works is the Sparkle City Mini-Putt course between Main and Broad Streets. Originally conceptualized by Kocher as a single hole created by a local artist on a truck bed as a traveling interactive experience, “it really took on momentum,” he says, until it became a 9-hole course on a downtown lot that belongs to Johnson Development. “They are very generous in allowing us to use that space,” Kocher says, “and the city, too—they help to maintain it. It’s everybody working together, which is what makes this community so awesome.”

The Mini-Putt is a great outdoor activity, but it’s more than that. “It’s an interactive sculpture,” Kocher says, with the holes created by several local artists. It involves local businesses, too—the course is free, with putters and balls available at five downtown business locations. The businesses track whether Mini-Putt players made a purchase in their establishment and pass that information along to Kocher, allowing him to quantify the economic impact of the course.

Getting out of the Showroom and into the rest of downtown creates opportunities for helping businesses in other ways, too. Recent events like Love Is in the Ale—an interactive comedy experience to celebrate Valentine’s Day at Hub City Tap House—and the upcoming Drive-by Shakespeare at the Growler Haus are intentionally planned for slow nights at those businesses to bring people in.

Kocher and Giles have created a Spartanburg-themed talk show called “The Latest Thing inSpartanburg with Tim Giles” that has drawn crowds at a variety of venues—the first three were at the Showroom, and others have been held at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, Chapman Cultural Center, and Hub City Taphouse. With a 10:00 start time and edgy, off-the-wall humor, those events admittedly draw a younger crowd, but Kocher hopes to have a family-friendly, daytime version in March or April to reach a different audience.

Other community events include the Downtown Salon Series, a monthly Saturday afternoon gathering that debuted last Saturday at the Upstate Gallery on Main. The goal, Kocher says, is for art to lead to conversations, and Saturday’s event included both visual and performing arts with the theme of “new beginnings.”  The upcoming Talk 20, a sort of mini-TED talk forum with 10 speakers on various topics ranging from informative to humorous, will be held on Saturday at the West Main Artists Co-op.

Photo credits: Banner, Top right—Sharon Purvis; Center left, Bottom right courtesy of Hub-Bub.

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.