Bluffton Boundary brings the community together with art, culture and history

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Shaded by live oaks and nestled beside Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church, Bluffton Boundary celebrates the culture of Old Town Bluffton — the art and history that give the town its identity.

That culture is on clear display at the new center: A colorful mural stretches from the building almost to the street, painted at a paint-by-numbers party over the summer by local residents, and picnic tables dot the sandy yard for monthly gatherings that celebrate the region’s Gullah heritage.

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Bluffton Boundary is a subsidiary of A Call To Action, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group founded in 2015 and focused on historical preservation, education and economic development. Its initiatives include the Real Champions ACT tutoring program for local students and efforts to renovate Campbell Chapel A.M.E. and petition for it to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

For years, Campbell Chapel A.M.E. rented out its old parsonage as a residence. But about two years ago, the residents moved out and the Rev. Charles Young offered the space to A Call To Action.

“He knew our goals of restoring the chapel, economic development, and mentoring in the community,” said Nate Pringle, president and co-founder of A Call To Action. “At first we were using the building as offices until we figured out what we wanted to do with it.”

After conversations with Bluffton artist Amiri Farris about a lack of Gullah culture in the Bluffton community, the group decided to turn the building into a space where artists could display their works celebrating the area’s heritage.

Nate PringleTransforming the building from a residence into a commercial space was a huge project, Pringle said. And as a new nonprofit group, A Call To Action didn’t have much of a budget for renovation. But Pringle met Armador Rivera of Alfa Ce Inc. and, after touring the property, Rivera agreed to do the job. But Pringle still was worried — but not for long.

“I didn’t sleep the whole weekend,” Pringle said. “But Rivera called me Monday morning. And before they started working, the whole crew formed a circle and prayed around a hammer. That’s when I knew I had the right guy.”

Rivera’s company was between projects, Pringle said, which put it under a time constraint. In a matter of days, though, an architect was found to draw the plan and the permitting process was expedited.

“The town was instrumental in helping us get the project done,” Pringle said. “And everything lined up by the hand of God.”

Now the art gallery features work by about 25 local and national artists and serves as an incubator for the arts.

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“It’s a place to showcase your craft or teach your craft,” said Bluffton Boundary’s executive director, Sonja Griffin Evans, a Beaufort native and nationally recognized artist. Bluffton Boundary features an artist of the month with exhibits and an open reception.

“We had a vision to do more with this building than just rent it out as a home,” said Pringle. “And we’re getting to a place where we can start working on our goals in the community for economic development and improving quality of life.”

As part of that bigger mission, Bluffton Boundary is committed to bringing people together. From 6 to 9 p.m. on the third Friday of every month, Bluffton Boundary hosts Gullah Nights, featuring authentic Gullah food, live music from B.B. & Company, and an opportunity to tour the gallery and hang out in the heart Bluffton. The cost of the event is $25 in advance and $30 the day of the event. Tickets can be purchased at 21 Boundary St., and proceeds help Bluffton Boundary fund its upcoming Gullah Reunion Festival.

Bluffton Boundary4That festival is part of a collaboration with the South Carolina Cultural Heritage Society. The event was created because so many African-Americans can trace their history back to South Carolina and the Gullah community, and the groups wanted to preserve and promote that endangered culture. The Gullah Reunion Festival will be held July 4-7 at the Eagles Field at Sam Bennett Sports Complex.

“It will be the first major Gullah festival in Bluffton,” Pringle said. “And the goal is bringing people back to their roots.”

For more information about the festival, go to www.gullahreunionfestival.com.