Dogs and horses brought Sylvia “Sibby” Upton Wood and her husband, Max, to Camden 43 years ago. They moved from St. Joseph, Mich., a rich arts community, to Camden, which Wood early on considered a town “void” of the performing arts.
Now, with Wood’s leadership, Kershaw County has the Fine Arts Center and the state of South Carolina has a nine-month residential program called the Governor’s School for the Arts.
In recognition of her contributions to the S.C. Governor’s School of the Arts and Humanities (GSAH), Wood will be honored with the J. Verne Smith Leadership Award at the 2012 Leadership Tribute May 3 in Greenville.
Wood, who played the harp, grew up heavily exposed to the arts. It was that background -- and the lack of the performing arts in Camden – that gave Wood the motivation to push the Camden community to develop its performing arts programs.
Wood invited a New York City opera singer to perform in the schools and encouraged county leaders to help emphasize the necessity of a thriving arts community to the school system.
A trip to the Spoleto Festival with a friend led Wood to get involved with Spoleto Festival USA by becoming a board member. During her tenure, Wood met Spoleto’s founder, Gian Carlo Menotti. The Italian-American composer won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his 1950 operatic work “The Consul” and the other for “The Saint of Bleecker Street,” which debuted in 1954. He became friends with the Woods and fell in love with the city of Camden.
“He loved Camden; he just thought it was the greatest thing,” she said. “And … he really liked me for me.”
Wood accompanied Menotti to Spoleto, Italy, a “walled city,” for eight days of the original Spoleto Festival, also inaugurated by Menotti. Wood remembered dining with Menotti in Italy, comparing it to attending the Academy Awards. She said Menotti was a nice man and that they really enjoyed each other’s company.
Menotti helped Wood and her friends create the Music, Art and Drama (MAD) Festival in Camden. With no budget, but rich in perseverance, they started the festival in the late 1970s. Wood also spearheaded the Artists in Residence program in Camden around the same time.
Wood is a member of the Frederick S. Upton Foundation, launched by her father, Frederick Upton, in the 1950s. Current members of the foundation meet three times a year, Wood said. The foundation has given some $1 million to the arts in Camden over the years, she said.
Wood continues to be active on several local boards including the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County and the Hospital Foundation.
The GSAH, she said, has “done a great job. It has helped a lot of kids make a living.”
The J. Verne Smith Leadership Award is named in honor of the S.C. senator who chaired the legislative study committee that determined the state of South Carolina could afford to build the arts school and that its mission could be met. Each honoree is given a handcrafted sculpture created by a visual arts faculty member of the governor’s school.
The sixth annual leadership tribute honors individuals and companies instrumental in “bringing the school to life.”
“Sibby is a quiet, intelligent and knowing person who truly understands the arts and the importance of developing programs and services that will enhance the quality of life,” said Virginia Uldrick, GSAH founder and first president. “She was instrumental to formulating the plan for the nine-month residential school and I will always be grateful to her for her leadership on the board.”
GSAH of the arts is a nine-month public, residential high school for 225 of “the most talented and the brightest” students in South Carolina. The GSAH program began as a five-week residential summer camp in 1980 and was expanded to a year-round education in 1996.
Students are given the opportunity to concentrate on one of five major areas: creative writing, dance, drama, music or visual arts, in addition to meeting all of South Carolina’s requirements for a diploma. The Governor’s School of the Arts Foundation, responsible for the leadership tribute, is a 501 C3 that supports the school.