For a small coastal enclave, South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, along with neighboring Bluffton and Daufuskie Island, loom large when it comes to arts and culture.
According to Jack Reed, director of sales, Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Visitor & Convention Bureau, Hilton Head’s cultural offerings and entertainment options draw group attendees to participate before, during or after their meeting.
“Because of [Hilton Head] being a resort destination, many attendees bring their spouses and/or families and come in early or stay after the meeting is over,” he explained.
The area is home to the Hilton Head Choral Society, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, multiple theater companies and art galleries, and there are over a dozen community festivals each year.
“Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra has a number of international artists that have long been a staple of the island,” Reed said. “And special performances happen throughout the year, such as the Charleston Opera on Hilton.”
Groups also flock to the Lowcountry for its abundance of meeting convention facilities as well as its climate, natural beauty and Southern charm. Convention resorts include the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa and Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort, both of which recently completed renovations.
In addition, the region offers the Montage Palmetto Bluff, a luxury property in Bluffton, and The Sea Pines resort, a historic oceanfront property.
Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, located on Hilton Head Island, is a regional performing and visual arts institute. The center also delivers cultural festivals and educational outreach.
“The Coastal Carolina Arts Center has world-class programs,” Reed explained. “Each year the Arts Center produces five plays or musicals, from concept to curtain call, featuring outstanding direction, superb production design and talented performers.”
Available spaces for rental include the Elizabeth Wallace Theater, which can seat 349 people and be used for productions, lectures and workshops. The smaller Rachel & John Jakes Studio Theater has flexible seating and stage areas, accommodating 175 people classroom-style or 90 for sit-down banquets.
There are two additional rooms and a studio that can be used for myriad meetings or other functions. There are also landscaped grounds and paved areas for all kinds of outdoor events, such as festivals, workshops and exhibits.
“We host private concerts—we had a private Darius Rucker concert recently—as well as all types of meetings, receptions, art exhibits and even wine tastings,” said Robert Feldman, vice president and general manager of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. “We also offer group tickets to all theatrical performances.”
If attendees want to hone their artistic talents, or explore a new media, the Art League Academy, run by the Art League of Hilton Head, has classes and workshops for groups.
Located inside the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, the Art League Gallery features works from over 170 artists, all for sale in the 2,000-square-foot space.
“We offer a wide variety of classes and workshops to the public all year around,” said Amy Wehrman, Art League Academy manager. “There are classes in all different mediums and for all different skill levels of students. All of these classes and workshops could be offered as a private one-on-one session or for a private group.”
Blending performing arts with teambuilding, THEY improv is in the business of working with companies to get attendees out of their comfort zones, to bond and learn about themselves and teammates.
Not just for entertaining audiences, improv can be used to improve sales, management and communication abilities.
“Improv by nature brings people together to work toward common goals,” said Todd Rice, founder and director of THEY improv. “And nothing is more important in business than that.”
THEY improv, which serves the Hilton Head area as well as other locations across North America and across the pond, has created group activities and training programs using scavenger hunts, mini-Olympiads, murder mysteries, game shows and of course, improv, to entertain and enhance meetings and events.
THEY works with meeting planners or corporate executives to discuss the group’s background, needs and weaknesses to create a specific program that will benefit all participants and the overall goal of the meeting or event. The team is experienced in quickly identifying the skills and challenges of a group and can adjust on the spot. That’s what improv is all about.
With that in mind, is it no surprise this company is named THEY improv?
“It’s not about us, it’s about what ‘they’ need,” Rice explained.
In addition to theater, arts, music and entertainment, Hilton Head gives locals and visitors the chance to learn about its past, including about the Gullah people and their traditions.
The term “Gullah” refers to both a language and a culture that was born when enslaved Africans were brought to the Lowcountry region in the 18th century.
These enslaved people developed their own language, economic system and cuisine, creating a culture that has been preserved.
A notable Gullah artistic tradition is a sweetgrass coil basket made from straw. These baskets are available for purchase but groups can also arrange for a basket weaving class or watch them being made by the local artists.
Hilton Head Island hosts the annual Gullah Celebration in February each year and is home to the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island, where visitors can learn about the history and traditions of this culture.
Prior to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, a group of escaped slaves created their own town on Hilton Head Island’s former Drayton Hall plantation.
With the help of Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel, the citizens created this self-governed settlement by creating laws, an economy, laid out streets and built homes and a church.
The traditions of Mitchelville, named after the general, are still alive at The Mitchelville Freedom Park.
The park features a gazebo, an observation platform looking out toward Port Royal Sound and there are plans by the Mitchelville Preservation Project to construct replica structures and offer lectures, exhibits, tours and special events to preserve and protect this heritage.
Hilton Head Contact Information
Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce & VCB