Inspiring Children with Art in Charleston – Lisa Estes

This month, the Islands Society is proud to recognize Lisa Estes as our latest “Sea Islands Community Leader.’ Estes is the founding director of Art Goes There – a nonprofit that provides children with programs that enrich their participation in the arts. A Charleston, S.C. native, she graduated from University of South Carolina School of Law. Later, she opened Estes Law Firm, LLC, in Beaufort where she practiced until returning to Charleston in 2010. A life-long supporter of the arts, Estes has served and advised non-profit boards since 2001. James Carroll, Managing Director of the Sea Islands Society, therefore sat down with Lisa to learn more about Art Goes There and some of the challenges nonprofits face in the Lowcountry.

What motivated you to start Art Goes There?

“Art Goes There” promotes and creates connections among artistic, cultural, and educational collaborators to provide inspiring and challenging programs for children that broadens, deepens, and diversifies participation in the arts. I had spent many years representing nonprofits as an attorney and working for several non-profits. I had seen best practices and also how things can be improved in the inner workings of a non-profit organization. I wanted to be able to create a vehicle that would allow me and others to collaborate and connect to bring arts education to areas where programs don’t exist or are hard to maintain. I saw a need in McClellanville and Awendaw, S.C. and decided to use that area for a pilot program.

Why is it important for local communities to support art programs?

Arts programs help build strong economic communities. Charleston is a perfect example of a community that benefits from a rich artistic history. Additionally, the advantages of arts education have been routinely studied and proven to enhance educational programming. Students whose educational opportunities include art components routinely have lower dropout rates, score higher on standardized tests and have better overall educational experiences. Art programs opportunities, both in and out of the school setting, are especially crucial in rural and island areas where programs are irregular or non-existent.

From your point of view as a lawyer and as the director for your nonprofit, what are some of the challenges of running a nonprofit?

Nonprofits are very unique organizations and many people don’t understand the organizational model. As an attorney representing nonprofit organizations since 2001, I’ve helped organizational leaders to understand the responsibilities of their employees and board members. I’ve also worked for nonprofits and founded “Art Goes There,” so I have detailed knowledge of day-to-day best practices. I used all of these experiences to build “Art Goes There” as an organization that can withstand the many challenges nonprofits face. Funding is always a challenge and I see a lot of nonprofit leaders and boards that don’t understand the detail required to maintain a healthy and legally sound organization.

In the Lowcountry, nonprofits have access to many grants that provide basic services but not as many grants for long term capacity building. What are the other issues nonprofits are facing in the Lowcountry?

When founding “Art Goes There,” I focused on creating collaborative relationships. I was born and raised in Charleston. If you live here all your life, you get to know many people. Charleston’s population has changed but it has also added to the opportunities to connect and work together. Many nonprofits in the area work together but long term collaborative relationships could help to spread critical services. The Lowcountry has many nonprofits providing similar services to similar populations. Cross-collaborations are key for longevity.

Why do you feel it’s important for the Lowcountry to promote more women, minorities and young people in nonprofit leadership roles?

Nonprofits must be diverse to survive. The Lowcountry’s population is always changing and nonprofits need to be sure that leadership is reflective of that diversity. We also need to be sure that young people learn the landscape of the nonprofit world so that they can grow into future leaders in the important work that area nonprofits provide.

Finally, what does it mean to be a leader in Charleston?

Charleston has become an international hub. It’s interesting to travel outside of the state and the country and find that people actually know about Charleston, S.C. Being a leader in the Lowcountry allows me to connect with opportunities locally and all over the world and I hope to show those opportunities to some of the children served by “Art Goes There.”


Lisa Estes

Lisa Estes is the founding director of Art Goes There of Charleston, South Carolina.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Kwong Yee Cheng via Flickr CC

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