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South Carolina Arts Foundation

McNair Award


The South Carolina Arts Foundation will honor Joe Riley, former mayor of Charleston, with the 2017 McNair Award for his dedication in ensuring that the arts continue to play a vital role in our communities.


The McNair Award will be presented at a luncheon showcasing the South Carolina Arts Awards, which also honor recipients of the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Awards for the Arts and the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards. The luncheon takes place in Columbia May 2, beginning with an art sale at 11 a.m. at the USC Alumni Center, 900 Senate St.. The luncheon follows at 12:30 p.m.


Reserve luncheon tickets online or by calling (803) 734-8696.


Joseph P. Riley, Jr.

Joe Riley is widely considered one of the most visionary and highly effective governmental leaders in America. First elected Mayor in December 1975, Mayor Riley served an unprecedented tenth term. Under his leadership, Charleston increased its commitment to racial harmony and progress, achieved a substantial decrease in crime, experienced a remarkable revitalization of its historic downtown business district, supported the creation and growth of Spoleto Festival USA, added significantly to the City’s park system including the highly celebrated Waterfront Park, developed nationally acclaimed affordable housing, and experienced unprecedented growth in Charleston’s size and population. Mayor Riley led a city government with an impressive record of innovation in public safety, housing, arts and culture, children’s issues, and economic revitalization and development. The City of Charleston is recognized as one of the most livable and progressive cities in the United States. A recipient of numerous awards, Mayor Riley received the Outstanding Mayors Award from the National Urban Coalition and the Distinguished Citizen Award by the National Association of Realtors. He received many awards for urban and community design and was named the 1991 Municipal Leader of the Year by American City & County. He has received the Order of the Palmetto, was named South Carolinian of the Year, and was given the National Medal of Arts from President Obama and the 1982 Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award by the S.C. Arts Commission for outstanding contributions to the arts. Along with Governor Nikki Haley, he was the joint recipient of the Riley Institute's 2015 Wilkins Award for Excellence in Civic Leadership. After 40 years as Mayor in January of 2016, he joined the faculty of The Citadel as the first occupant of an endowed Professorship of American Government & Public Policy created in his honor with the mission of documenting, and teaching, lessons of principled, bipartisan, and effective leadership in pursuit of excellence for the public good. 

About the McNair Award

Established in 2007, the McNair Award is named for the late Governor Robert E. McNair, who signed legislation to create the Arts Commission in 1967 to “ensure that the arts continue to grow and play an ever more significant part in the welfare and educational experiences of our citizens." Originally presented posthumously to Governor McNair, the award continues to honor outstanding leaders who have built on the legacy of the award's namesake: working diligently to make South Carolina a place where the arts thrive for the benefit of all South Carolinians.


Signing of legislation creating the South Carolina Arts Commission. Pictured are Nick Zeigler, Governor Robert McNair, and Marvin Trapp.Gov. Robert E. McNair signing legislation creating the South Carolina Arts Commission, on June 7, 1967. Nick Zeigler, left, chaired the S. C. Inter-Agency Council on the Arts and Humanities, which conducted a study of the arts in preparation for launching the Arts Commission. Marvin Trapp, right, served as the Arts Commission's first chairman.







Governor Robert E. McNairThe South Carolina Arts Foundation paid tribute to the late Gov. Robert E. McNair during the Arts Commission's 40th anniversary celebration in May 2007 honoring his role in creating the agency. Former board members and others who shaped the agency's history participated in the celebration.




Former S.C. Governor Richard W. Riley 2010 McNair Award

Richard W. Riley

Former S.C. Governor and U.S. Secretary of Education


For leadership and dedication to the arts and arts education in S.C.




2011 McNair Award

Susie Surkamer

Former S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director


For her visionary leadership and advocacy for a strong arts community in the Palmetto State and her affirmation of public support to guarantee arts opportunities and accessibility for all South Carolinians.


Former S.C. Governor Richard W. Riley 2013 McNair Award

Patrick R. VanHuss

Former Chairman, S.C. Arts Commission and S.C. Arts Foundation


In recognition of his leadership and advocacy for the arts and arts education as integral to the lives of every South Carolinian.


Former S.C. Governor Richard W. Riley 2015 McNair Award

Robert "Wes" Wesley Hayes

Former Senator and Arts Caucus Co-chairman

S.C. Senate


For dedicating more than three decades to ensuring that the arts continue to play a vital role in our nation’s schools and communities.