Art takes flight in Sumter: Downtown public art installed by revitalization group

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Visitors to downtown Sumter can now see colorful 3-foot butterflies hanging overhead, as the City of Sumter and Main Street Society teamed up to showcase local artists and bring positivity to the community amid the pandemic.

"We've been doing revitalization downtown for 20 years, and one thing we really don't have downtown is art," said Leigh Newman, downtown development coordinator for the city. "This was an art installation project that we wanted to do just to have some art downtown and brighten things up."

Jenna Brown, project chair for the art installation downtown, said this project was in the works for more than two years, as the Main Street Society tried to brainstorm ideas for the project.

"Someone brought up the butterfly as a symbol of how much Main Street is changing and the revitalization of downtown," Brown said. The society committee immediately jumped on the idea and got to work.

Brown said the Main Street Society received a lot of entries, but it settled on seven for the first round of the art installation, as she hopes to do more art installation projects in the near future.

Six local artists and a group of children painted 3-foot fiberglass butterflies more than a year ago, and now, their art is permanently displayed in the downtown area.

"Public art adds so much value to a community, and I really hope that when people see the butterflies that they can feel proud of downtown and that they can be proud of Sumter," Brown said.

According to Newman, the artwork was supposed to be displayed in March for the Inspire Festival, but when COVID-19 cases started to increase in the U.S., the City of Sumter had to cancel the festival.

Even though there was a bump in the road, Newman didn't mind the project being put on hold. She thought now is the best time to put the fiberglass butterflies up because community members have long deserved something uplifting and positive amid COVID-19.

"The reason we wanted to get them hung now was for something happy," Newman said. "People are staying in. They're not doing much, but they can certainly come out and walk around downtown and look at these butterflies."

The butterflies were purchased by the city and the Main Street Society, and they gave people the opportunity to sponsor a butterfly for $500, Newman said. The sponsorship allowed the sponsor to inscribe a message or in-memory-of on a plaque, as well as the name of the artist and butterfly, if the artist chooses to name it. Newman said the plaques will be displayed with the butterflies at a later date.

Local artist Cleo Klopfleisch said she was "completely surprised" when she was chosen for the project because she didn't consider herself an expert artist.

"I tried to duplicate the South Carolina butterfly, which is the Swallowtail. I also tried to incorporate the colors of South Carolina," Klopfleisch said. "Hopefully they'll love it."

The artist said she even made it a family art project with the help of her grandchildren, who even got a real caterpillar and watched it hatch from its cocoon.

Klopfleisch's butterfly, "Swallowtail," sponsored by Heidi Burkett, can be seen on a light pole near C. Anthony's Menswear.

The other six butterflies can also be viewed around the downtown area:

Sumter children butterfly, sponsored by Main Street Society, can be seen on a light pole near Cut Rate Drug Store. Its name is Kaleidoscope.

Connie Brennan's butterfly, sponsored by Barbara and Harry Burchstead, can be seen on a light pole in front of the courthouse. This butterfly is unnamed.

Matthew Morse's butterfly, sponsored by Matthew Morse and Jenna Brown, can be seen on a light pole in the alley next to Berenyi Incorporated and The Sumter Item. Its name is All These Little Creatures.

Nurai Tucker's butterfly, sponsored by Jere and Bobbi Pound, can be seen on a light pole at the Rotary Plaza. Its name is Lucidity.

Erin Duffie's butterfly, sponsored by Hobby and Greg Williams, can be seen on a light pole in front of the Sumter Opera House. Its name is Variegated Flutter.

Liz Duffy's butterfly, sponsored by Heart of Sumter, can be seen in front of the Sumter Opera House. Its name is Winged Revival.