Brainerd Institute Heritage Programs

Chester County, South Carolina – not unlike the rest of the state – suffers from high rates of illiteracy; many children read well below grade level. Therefore, our efforts are concentrated on creating innovative programming that is designed to improve literacy, such as the Workshops in Open Fields initiative.

Watch the video or read below for information and check back seasonally for updates on new events.


Workshops in Open Fields

The mission for each workshop is to provide unique cultural experiences
to the community that teach literacy through arts.
Workshops in Open Fields was conceived by Dr. Vivian Ayers Allen,
Founder of the ADEPT New American Folk Center and Founding Director of Brainerd Institute Heritage,
and developed in collaboration with a group of arts instructors. This cultural education program, originally designed
to provide free instruction and development in the visual arts to children in Houston, Texas,
won the heart and support of Nancy Hanks, Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts.

Workshops in Open Fields presents the Claflin University Choir

In the Fall of 2022, Workshops in Open Fields welcomed the world famous Claflin University Concert Choir. Under the leadership of the accomplished Dr. Charlie Toomer, the celebrated choir blessed the large crowd in attendance with a spectacular concert on a beautiful autumn afternoon under the trees.

Part of the event included Dr. Toomer working with Ms. Hayward to instruct her Chester Middle School Chorus program who performed various songs along with the Claflin Choir to the audience’s delight. Members from Brown’s Chapel A.M.E. church were also on hand to help. Selections included traditional songs from South Africa, Gullah Geechee culture, and more in a rich and powerful day of learning, enjoyment, and musical expression.

Enjoy a replay of the day with the video to the right.

Vivian Ayers Workshops in Open Fields Presents Literacy Through
the Arts Featuring the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

JUNE 18, 2022

When Vivian Ayers started Workshops in Open Fields in Houston, the goal was to have artists and educators “doing what they do best.” She instructed her teachers not to require anyone to attend their workshops or prevent them from leaving but simply “get busy doing what you do best.” This approach creates a free and “open” environment for students to joyfully engage in the lessons being freely offered.
The result is authentic and refreshing enrichment.

Likewise, the Workshops in Open Fields event with Gullah artists powerfully immersed students of all ages into greater enlightenment seemingly effortlessly as the wisdom, beauty, and cultural richness brought by the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor graced everyone who attended.

Download the complete schedule and line up of world renowned artists and performers that Victoria Smalls, the director of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor assembled for Workshops in Open Fields.

Thank you to everyone who contributed, participated,
and created a most Beautiful Day to be remembered.

The voices, art, performances, and Spirits of the artists from the Gullah Geechee Heritage Cultural Corridor rang out “True, Beautiful, and Free” under the majestic trees, over the green fields, and through the summer air at Brainerd. Thank you Chester and to every person that supported in person or in spirit; you are greatly appreciated and hope you left enriched. God indeed Blessed June 18, 2022.

More related media articles from the event:

Workshop in Chester Aims to Remember Gullah Geechee Culture
By Associated Press, U.S. News

Gullah Geechee: A people, a culture, a way of life: West African-descended culture celebrated at Brainerd Institute
By Brian Garner, The News & Reporter

Background of Workshops in Open Fields

In 2008-2010, Workshops in Open Fields presented Free Dance Days in Chester, South Carolina at the historic site of Brainerd Institute, featuring Debbie Allen and faculty of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.

In 2017, the focus of Workshops in Open Fields turned toward pre-school literacy in Chester. With a volunteer staff of certified teachers, sessions in pre-school literacy were offered in two-hour sessions, three times per week, at the Brainerd Estate. Certified teachers from the Chester County School District enthusiastically volunteered their time to participate as teachers for the program. The innovative approach to education is as refreshing to the teachers as it is to the students.

Exceptional educational initiatives will continue to expand each year to benefit the Chester community and provide a shining example of how education in South Carolina – and our nation – can be approached in a way that truly engages the minds of young people and encourages a lifelong love of learning.

Brainerd Workshops in Open Fields

Below are video vignettes from previous Summers of Workshops – enjoy!