EngenuitySC, the local nonprofit that works with area leaders to make the Columbia, S.C., region a standout choice for top talent and competitive companies, will close out its annual Competitiveness Week 2020 with a celebration of one of the city’s greatest levers of growth — its thriving arts community.
EngenuitySC has partnered with one of the prime movers of the Midlands’ music scene, Mark Rapp, to support this month’s jazz dinner series, “Mark Rapp and the ColaJazz Little Big Band.” Featured as the closing celebration for EngenuitySC’s Competitiveness Week 2020, the event will be held on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020 from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $10, and dinner will be available for purchase. Find info here: https://www.engenuitysc.com/competitiveness-week-2020/.
EngenuitySC’s Competitiveness Week 2020 celebrates and investigates Columbia’s ability to attract talented individuals and impactful businesses through innovation, talent development, livability, a healthy entrepreneurial environment and high-impact industry clusters.
When it’s time for a major corporation, a homegrown business, or even a recent graduate to choose a place to succeed, EngenuitySC — and the leaders in business, education and government that serve on its board — want to make it easy for them to choose the Columbia, S.C., region.
“Columbia’s arts scene is where we see four of the five pillars of competitiveness — innovation, talent development, entrepreneurship and livability — fold together,” says EngenuitySC Executive Director Meghan Hickman. “Right now, one of the city’s most prolific artist entrepreneurs is Mark Rapp, and we are so excited to highlight his work as our culminating event of Competitiveness Week 2020.”
Rapp’s work as a creative entrepreneur is part of what makes for such high quality of life in Columbia. Viewed as a pioneer of arts entrepreneurship in the region, Rapp returned from a successful career in New York City’s music scene and has continually made moves to advance the Columbia jazz scene.
With performance degrees from Winthrop and University of New Orleans, and with big-name mentors (you may have heard of the Marsalis family), Rapp is a welcome bandleader and collaborator across the country. He had already released two acclaimed albums when he moved to Columbia in 2012 to be near family.
As he ventured into the local performance world, he was impressed with the population of talented jazz musicians living in Columbia and disappointed in the lack of recognition they received. A visit to an Asheville restaurant that co-produced a giveaway CD with their house band sparked an idea that became 2015’s “Cola Jazz Volume 1,” a compilation CD of 13 of the city’s bandleaders and their ensembles. The release, and the subsequent Volume 2, are now staples in the gift shop at the Experience Columbia SC Visitors Center — a move that supports the career of local artists and drives tourism purchases.
“When visitors take home our CD and play it for friends, we build the reputation of our musicians and the reputation of Columbia as a great jazz city,” he says.
The collaborative relationships built through the compilation project led to new opportunities: Rapp launched ColaJazz.com to promote the CD and its players (which has become to go-to calendar for jazz performances throughout the city), and he holds ongoing jam sessions and club gigs with rotating ensemble players. He also teaches and runs an all-ages summer jazz camp, in addition to producing the annual Cola Jazz festival.
In 2014, he forged a creative partnership with Columbia-based choreographer Stephanie Wilkins. The two created Woven, an original contemporary jazz ballet, as part of Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College’s Performance Incubator; they reunited for last season’s fresh take on The Great Gatsby at Trustus Theatre (a production that also featured Rapp’s wife, Columbia City Ballet Principal Dancer Claire Richards Rapp.)
“When Mark chose me to choreograph his evening-length jazz ballet, Woven, in 2015, it led to a wonderful and creative partnership which has continued to flourish more than four years later,” says Wilkins. “Mark has a gift for finding opportunities that can be lucrative for both creative and business partners. I’m always grateful and excited to work with him. He is the ultimate collaborator: open, patient, always engaged, and encouraging.”
Rapp recently re-homed the majority of his projects under a new ColaJazz nonprofit organization — the aptly named ColaJazz Foundation. The organization employs between one and two dozen musicians each month in its programs, which have expanded to include concerts in the lobby of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital and after-school programming using the Jazz at Lincoln Center curriculum.
While Rapp has undeniably expanded paying opportunities for jazz musicians living in the Midlands, he says there are a few substantial improvements that could be made to the local entertainment ecosystem. Namely, he advocates for restaurants and bars charging a cover in order to pay their musicians wages. The standard pay rate for musicians in Columbia lags behind the rate in Charleston and Greenville, a problem he attributes to the absence of meaningful cover charges.
“This can be a win-win,” he offers, “Musicians attract customers, customers help cover the cost of paying musicians a living wage and everyone gains the joy of making and listening to great music.”
When asked about his professional goals for the next few years, Rapp focuses on three areas: Expanding the education work offered by the Cola Jazz organization, expanding the Cola Jazz Festival to a multi-day event, and turning his monthly event at Main Course, a venue on Main Street, into a subscription series.
It is this event, “Mark Rapp and the ColaJazz Little Big Band,” that will be highlighted during EngenuitySC’s Competitiveness Week on Jan. 31. Says Rapp of the event, which charges diners a $10 cover charge to enjoy a full jazz concert over dinner (available for separate purchase from the menu), “It provides opportunities for musicians in and around Columbia and, as a ‘ticketed’ event, it begins to establish a model of value for our art.”
To see the complete event lineup for EngenuitySC’s Competitiveness Week, presented by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, visit https://www.engenuitysc.com/competitiveness-week-2020/.
Governed by the highest-ranking regional leaders in education, government and business, EngenuitySC is a nonprofit that works to make the Columbia, S.C., region a standout choice for top talent and competitive companies. Structured as a neutral and independent project management team, EngenuitySC is known for achieving progress through partnerships using a unique, highly effective process. Whether it is equipping K-12 students with career-ready skills, elevating quality of life with the Midlands Business Leadership Group, or producing Competitiveness Week and the annual Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report, EngenuitySC is a trusted force, working behind the scenes to build a community cultivated for living, working, playing and learning. Learn more at www.engenuitysc.com.