Inside the College of Charleston's Newly Renovated Simons Center

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On May 3, 2024, the School of the Arts held a soft opening of the highly anticipated Albert Simons Center for the Arts.

On May 3, 2024, the College of Charleston School of the Arts assembled members of College leadership and the School of the Arts Council, as well as special guests, for a soft opening of the highly anticipated Albert Simons Center for the Arts.

RELATED: Find out more about the Simons Center’s multimillion-dollar renovation.

Since the late 1970s, the Simons Center has been an integral part of Charleston’s artistic life, but it was originally built to accommodate no more than 800 students. Over the decades, the School of the Arts grew as the College grew. With the largest first-year class in the College’s history currently enrolled, the renovation of the facility, with updated spaces and technology, could not have come at a better time.

At the soft opening event, held in the bright expansive lobby, College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu touched on the innovative opportunities the newly renovated facility would provide for students, faculty and staff. In addition, he emphasized the significant role of the Simons Center as a cultural hub for the Charleston community – reinforcing the School of the Arts’ tagline, “the artistic heartbeat of Charleston.”

Interim dean Beth Meyer-Bernstein acknowledged the hard work of previous School of the Arts leadership who oversaw the renovation planning, and shared a brief history of the building’s namesake, the late Albert Simons, who praised the design of the center in 1977, saying, “If you study the buildings of Charleston, you’ll find four or five distinct periods, and now we have a sixth – the contemporary.”

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She introduced Simons’ grandson Albert Simons III and granddaughter-in-law Theodora, who were in attendance “to help us usher in a brand new period of growth and creativity at the School of the Arts.” Simons III expressed how proud his grandfather was to be part of the College and the arts as a longtime contributor in many ways – as an instructor, architect and preservationist.

Meyer-Bernstein shared another reason to celebrate at the event as she revealed the first piece of artwork to be displayed in the building.

“I am sure you have noticed this remarkable painting behind me. Generously donated by Brian Rutenberg ’87, ‘Sandspur’ will be the first piece of art hung in this new space,” she said. “Brian is a devoted supporter of the College and specifically the Department of Studio Art, and we are so thankful to him for helping us dedicate our new building in this way.”

Finally, Meyer-Bernstein welcomed two-time alumni award winner Donnetta Grays ‘99, who celebrates an award-winning acting and playwriting career that spans over two decades, to reflect on her time in the Simons Center as a theatre major.

“Coming off the Cistern, gliding through the picturesque arboretum, jaywalking across St. Philip and landing … here. Entering the School of the Arts for the first time. There was a weight to it. You could feel a sense of history in it,” Grays reminisced. “I was so nervous. Because I had made a decision – at 17 years old – to pursue my art in earnest. And walking in that building felt like my first test: Will you be a part of the history of this place?

“I was overwhelmed with the notion of possibility,” she continued. “That beautiful mix of hope and failure and unknowing rolled into one. All the feelings that should have made me want to cut and run … but this building held my feet to the ground. And as I continued down the halls I had this profound knowing that I had found my tribe. Or, at least that tribal space. The School of the Arts immediately felt like home.”

The public will be invited to the grand opening of the Simons Center in September, featuring performances, creative work on display and an opportunity to meet the new dean of the School of the Arts, Jayme Host.

The arts are a priority for the College of Charleston, and the effects of the newly renovated Simons Center will be far reaching. To learn more about ways to support the Simons Center, contact Veronica Vereen, director of development, at vereenvo@cofc.edu.

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