Historic Columbia, South Carolina is a city of old architecture, magnolia trees and live oaks. But, this old standard isn’t stuck in the past. The Columbia art scene is vibrant and growing — with street art, sculptures and murals that remember the past, enrich today and inspire the future.
Whether visiting downtown’s Main Street District for dinner or the nearby Five Points neighborhood, Columbia’s art is worth its own visit.
Downtown Columbia Art
Probably the most famous of Downtown Columbia art is the “Busted Plug” sculpture on Taylor Street by Prisma Health Baptist Hospital. This sculpture, which stands 40 feet tall and weighs 675,000 pounds was built by local artist, Blue Sky, to commemorate old fashioned fire hydrants. Despite the crazy angle, the structure is solid — meant to look like it had been struck by a car.
Travel tip: Park in the adjacent lot and pay by phone while visiting downtown. It’s only $2 and incredibly convenient!
After taking a selfie at the sculpture, be sure to check out the two murals nearby.
The Tunnel Vision Mural, also created by Blue Sky, is 60 feet by 75 feet of optical illusion painted on the back of the Federal Land Bank Building. It’s in the same parking lot as the Busted Plug, so one quick stop provides two awesome experiences.
Also visible from the same parking lot is a farm scene, reminding visitors of the region’s agricultural roots.
Leave the car in the Busted Plug parking lot and walk down Taylor Street to Main Street to continue the tour.
Main Street Art
Perhaps the most famous art on Main Street is another contribution by Blue Sky titled “NEVERBUST.” Connecting two downtown buildings, the Kress Building and the Sylvan Building in the 1500 block of Main Street across from the Columbia Museum of Art, this 25 foot long welded steel chain can be easy to miss. Be sure to look up while walking by.
Interestingly, Sky self-commissioned the piece and installed it with the permission of both building owners but without city permission. Though, City Council did unanimously approve the piece. While it might seem like the chain has a special meaning, Blue Sky says the chain is there because it looks like one building leans a little.
Across the street from NEVERBUST sits Boyd Plaza at the Columbia Museum of Art. This plaza, open from dawn to dusk, provides a beautiful spot for enjoying coffee, lunch, or ice cream by its sculptures and fountains. It is a beautiful treasure in the heart of the city.
Newer installations on Main Street add to its vibrancy. Local artist Ija Charles recently completed a 300×600 foot mural on the side of a building to remember the Black Wall Street of the 1920s that once existed nearby. Her mural uses both black and white and color, representing memories and hope all in one.
Not surprisingly, a freestanding sculpture of the word HOPE makes a dramatic statement. Officially titled “Hope for Columbia,” the piece was created by South Carolina artists and installed in June of 2020, Danny Harrington and Brandon McIver; the hope is this piece will stand as a reminder that current difficulties won’t last forever.
Opposite the HOPE statue sits, literally, an interactive piece that uses farm tractor seats and old propane tanks to inspire individual creativity through music.
More Main Street Works of Art
Quirky murals and art pieces might be less substantial but add to the vibrancy of Columbia’s Main Street area. Keep an eye out for murals painted above storefronts and along the sides of buildings.
To learn about significant architecture in Columbia, keep an eye out for the 7′ long bronze “Sally Salamander” pieces. There are ten bronze salamanders throughout the downtown district— each highlighting a building important to the city’s history, culture, and development. That’s a clever way to incorporate Columbia art with Columbia architecture!
Here’s a link to the Sally Salamander Walking Tour: https://www.experiencecolumbiasc.com/listing/sally-salamander-walking-tour/19241/
Besides the Columbia art in the heart of downtown, the Five Points neighborhood is another great place to visit.
Driving, the neighborhood is about 1.5 miles from the heart of Downtown Columbia. The best way to explore Five Points Columbia art installations is to find a parking spot and stroll through this charming neighborhood.
Art in the Five Points Neighborhood of Columbia
The Five Points Neighborhood in Columbia has a unique history. Developed as a village on the edge of downtown from swampland, Five Points was intended to be a commercial district near the heart of the city. In the past 100 years, the neighborhood structure has not changed much, though it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
The Five Points Plaza Fountain announces a guest’s arrival to the neighborhood.
From the fountain, two murals make a statement.
The first is “The View from Mount Zion,” created by famed muralist McClellan Douglas. This installation is intended to create a sense of hope and strength, featuring the inspirational words of Bob Marley. Nearby is the “Postcard Mural,” completed in 2017 by Chad Berry. The postcard mural depicts the history and vibrancy of this eclectic place and is an essential selfie spot in the neighborhood.
More Intriguing Columbia, SC Artworks
A unique piece, “The Hubbell,” is a 15,000-pound brick structure at the corner of Devine Street and Saluda Avenue. This is another great spot for a fun selfie.
Another impressive sculpture honors the “hometown band,” Hootie and the Blowfish. The stainless steel sculpture is a must-see for 1980s and 1990s music fans. It stands 10′ wide, 20′ long, and is 17′ tall and can be found at the corner of Harden Street and Santee Avenue (aka Hootie Boulevard), the street’s honorary name.
Across the street from the Hootie and the Blowfish sculpture is the God Bless America flag. The mural was painted by local artist Ralph Waldrop, with help from local Vietnam Vets, after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Local artist, Blue Sky, has a couple of installations in Five Points. One is titled “Five Points -1948” and appears on the side of a building in an alley. It’s a bit hard to find, and the artist admits that painting on prominent walls is a better idea.
His newer installation, “Rubble Without a Cause,” makes sure this Columbia art installation is easily visible from Blossom Avenue. Take a close look, as this one hints at Main Street’s NEVERBUST chain Columbia art piece.
There’s much more to see in Five Points, like murals painted on the side of buildings, the Blossom Street Train Trestle announcing one’s arrival in Five Points, and the floating granite sphere in Centennial Plaza.
When visiting Columbia, enjoy the stately magnolias and live oak trees. Admire historic architecture with a little help from Sally Salamander. And, enjoy Columbia art — throughout the city, there’s so much to see.
This article was written by Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget.
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