School of Building Arts (Charleston, SC)

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  Panoramic view of church and town square on a sunny day

Downtown Charleston, South Carolina, site of the Masters of the Building Arts Festival that was attended by more than 5,000 people. Photo courtesy of the School of Building Arts

The School of Building Arts (SoBA) in Charleston, South Carolina was created in 1998 out of a demonstrated need for skilled craftspeople in America and has remained dedicated to restoring pride in craftsmanship and to preserving the rich heritage found in historical structures. Starting in fall 2005, SoBA also will welcome its inaugural class to its new college-accredited program, designed to train the next generation of master artisans.

In FY 2003, the School of Building Arts received an NEA Heritage/Preservation grant of $55,000 to support the Masters of the Building Arts Festival, which took place from March 25-27, 2004 on Marion Square in downtown Charleston. The festival featured 35 nationally recognized artisans, who have worked on such historic sites as the U.S. Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Drayton Hall in Charleston, and Les Invalides in Paris. The festival was held through collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the City of Charleston, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Functioning as a museum without walls, The Masters of the Building Arts Festival was segmented into six trades: ornamental ironworking, carpentry, masonry, timber framing, plaster work, and stone work. Craftspeople worked on projects at each trade site, while attendees observed and asked questions. A stone carver, for example, worked on a commission for the White House, while the brick masons demonstrated their artistry by building archways out of a variety of bricks.

More than 5,000 individuals attended the festival, which was free and open to the public. Children also benefited from “creation stations,” which allowed them to emulate the craftsmanship they observed through a hands-on creation projects.

(From the 2003 NEA Annual Report)