COLUMBIA MUSIC FESTIVAL ASSOCIATION (CMFA)
The Columbia Music Festival Association was founded following reconstruction in 1897. It was headquartered in the Columbia Theatre, the opera house on the corner of today’s Main Street. That building was destroyed by fire in 1899. The second City Hall – Opera House – was completed in 1901. It became the home of the CMFA until it was abandoned by municipal government. CMFA then moved to the Arcade Building, Township Auditorium, and then to the Columbia Museum grounds in the Horry-Guignard House. The CMFA purchased property in the historic Congaree Vista at 914 Pulaski Street, which today houses the CMFA and the CMFA ArtSpace.
Columbia Music Festival Association was established as a partnership between the government and the community. It was the outgrowth of the Dertheck Music Club (April 27, 1897) whose members worked closely with government leaders to formalize the relationship between government and the private sector.
A large local choral union that existed during the period from 1840-1879; and an orchestra was organized under the aegis of the CMFA. The Afternoon Music Club (1905) and later the Evening Music Club, were instrumental in enriching the musical life of the community and they became more integral in the CMFA of the 1930’s when the Artist Concert Series was established.
In 1938, the CMFA partnered with music director Hans Schwieger. He developed a 500 voice children’s choir and presented full orchestral concerts. In 1939, CMFA established an Orchestra School. They gave free lessons weekly to South Carolinians who wanted to learn how to become orchestral musicians. In 1940, CMFA established the Southern Symphony Orchestra.
In 1963 CMFA underwrote a concert as a pilot project for the rebuilding of a local orchestra. This orchestra performed in the spring of 1963 and from this first concert, the Columbia Festival Orchestra was born. It was during this time that the CMFA moved its headquarters to the Arcade Building on Main Street.
The Columbia Festival Orchestra quickly captivated the community. As it grew and developed under CMFA, the Orchestra changed its name, first to the Columbia Philharmonic, and then to the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra when the orchestra merged with the South Carolina Chamber Orchestra. In 2014, the orchestra celebrated its 50thAnniversary season.
In 1956, the Columbia Lyric Theatre was established. During its early years the company presented many light operas and cooperated with community groups such as Town Theatre and later the Workshop Theatre of South Carolina.
In 1973 The Lyric Theatre joined with the University of South Carolina School of Music. It was during the 1977-78 season that the company changed its name and became the Columbia Lyric Opera; and all its productions, again under CMFA, were presented in cooperation with the USC School of Music. Grand Opera from “Faust” and “Madama Butterfly” to “Tosca”, “La Traviata”,” Merry Wives of Windsor”, “Die Fledermaus”, “La Boheme” and “Hansel and Gretel”, with local singers joined by international stars became the operatic fare for the city.
The volunteer leadership of the opera took flight under the presidencies of Barbara Guignard and Elizabeth Wessels. In 1965, Leon Harrelson was hired to replace David Sennema as Executive Director of CMFA. The Executive Director of CMFA also served as Executive Director for all of CMFA’s affiliated organizations.
CMFA was relocated to the Columbia Museum complex on Senate Street in 1965. CMFA took residence in the historic Horry-Guignard House on the corner of Senate and Pickens Streets. That location was a hub of all arts activity. The Senate Street location was alive with the city arts festival, Mayfest, coordinated by the Columbia Action Council and the CMFA.
It was also in the mid-1960’s that the CMFA took part in the civil rights movement. The CMFA Artist Series audiences at the Township Auditorium were quietly integrated and the educational outreach was extended from Columbia College and USC to include Claflin College, Voorhees College and SC State.
Columbia Music Festival Association was working with arts groups from theatre and orchestras to opera and then in 1972, officially with dance. The Columbia City Ballet, under the direction of founder Ann Brodie, came under the umbrella of the CMFA.
Columbia City Ballet was founded in 1961, but it was under the umbrella of CMFA that the company was able to expand and become a major regional ballet company and a pre-eminent pre-professional training company. In 1988, Ann Brodie resigned her directorship as the City Ballet became a professional company. It was in that year that Ms. Brodie, together with John Whitehead, and a small group of Columbia dance leaders formed Ann Brodie’s Carolina Ballet, as a civic ballet company.
In 1982, John Whitehead was appointed as Executive Director for the Columbia Music Festival Association.
It was in the mid-1980’s that the Columbia Dance Theatre became a part of the CMFA as did DanSework Jazz, MorningStar, Vibrations Dance Company, the SC Shakespeare Company, FBN Opera for Children and Turku. In 1988, Donna Lewis created the Eboni Dance Theatre, using the format of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Eboni then developed a professional contemporary wing featuring Afro-Jazz fusion dance, and CORE was organized. Chamber music groups and newly emerging individual artists became a part of the CMFA’s family of the “arts.”
In 2009, CMFA created the Stanley Donen Film Festival with a major film and dance component. CMFA invited the Nickelodeon/Columbia Film Society to partner in the creative process. This festival has become today’s IndieGrits Festival.
The CMFA ArtSpace is an arts resource for the community, an incubator for the arts, and a greenhouse where arts organizations and individual artists can grow, develop, and thrive in an atmosphere of cooperation, shared purpose, commitment, diversity, and unity. As the communities mature, the CMFA has been able to adapt to meet the needs of this burgeoning arts environment. The ArtSpace, with well over 23,000 square feet will continue to provide meeting, rehearsal, exhibition, and performance space, as well as a home for arts and artists for generations to come.
Today, ColaJazz, Hip Hop Family Day, BluPrintX, and Creative Stylez Dance Company are exploring new artistic directions under the aegis of CMFA.
In 2019 the Covid-19 pandemic entered the World. In March we began a nationwide lockdown. CMFA was no exception. But, we put protocols in place during lock down and were able to open and safely continue virtual programming throughout the 2020-2021 Season.
Whitehead’s leadership as Executive Director and CEO, took the CMFA far past its earliest roots to become truly the city’s arts go-to and resource agency. Artists from many different disciplines, new and emerging arts groups as well as the stalwarts of the Columbia creative community have come to use the CMFA and its resources.