June 23, 2008

Under Bedouin Tents

From the outside, the facade of the building occupied by the twin brothers Stanley and Steven Bush in downtown Elloree South Carolina faded anonymously into the rows of unadorned houses and two-story shops. The downtown looked liked the center of most small towns in South Carolina - sleepy places with a quaint nostalgic charm. If not for the tell-tale cars and trucks, most of these streets brought us back to the late nineteenth century. But when Stanley unlocked the massive padlock on the front door, we entered a world of Middle Eastern dreams. Rich colored fabrics ran in streamers down the walls. The floor was stippled earth red, gold and brown like sand blowing in the wind. Large Bedouin tents in greens and blues invited the visitor into intimate corners to sit and drink good coffee over conversations while reclining on a cushion or a low-slung seat upon a soft silk Persian carpet. A striped canopy overhung a coffee bar. In the more complete second story, the tent was filled with beautiful woven baskets from South Africa. Another Persian carpet graced the floor with soft black, red and white designs. Sequins of gold from a wall hanging rippled in the late afternoon sunlight. There was something truly captivating about being under a Bedouin tent. It felt like being a special guest invited into an inner sanctum. The space beneath the tent was both open yet private - a place to discuss art and ideas. The ideas we discussed that day was how to bring the arts to small towns with large potential in South Carolina.
The Bedouin Bazaar in downtown Elloree was the brainchild of Stanley and Steven Bush. Stanley returned from Saudi Arabia a few years ago where he lived for thirteen years and ran the printing section of a large hospital and befriended King Fahd. In Saudi Arabia, Stanley developed a keen interest and appreciation for the arts of the Middle East. His dream has been to found an arts center that hosts performances, art classes, sells and exhibits art and provides studio spaces for working artists and an Arabic style coffee house. He purchased a large warehouse space in downtown Elloree for this purpose and has been renovating it for the last five years. I had occasion to visit this stunning work in progress and was truly impressed with the design and the vision. With the recent sale of the port in Orangeburg County and our new connection with Dubai, this will be a great opportunity for artists to connect with commercial development. But for now it is a slowly developing dream, with studio spaces yet to be completed, the coffee yet to flow, and the performances still in the imagination. But the space and the excitement is real.
A “meeting under the tent” is tentatively scheduled in Elloree either August or September for artists, administrators, and educators to discuss the future of the Bedouin Bazaar.

No comments: