Photo by John Williams
Founding artistic director, Arthur LeRoy Gilliard, is a native of Charleston, South Carolina, and is known for his featured roles in the 1991 television movie, Brother Future, and the 1985 television mini-series, North and South. Widely recognized as an anchor of the local cultural community, Art Gilliard’s work as an actor, director, playwright, and teacher has been critical in advancing African American voices and championing Black theatre in the Lowcountry.
Gilliard was educated in Charleston’s public school system, graduating as Senior Class President from Burke High School in 1967. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Bishop College in Dallas, Texas in 1971, he made his theatrical debut in New York City in the Off-Broadway production of Journey at the Nat Horne Theatre. The television pilot, The Royal Family, took him to Los Angeles, California, where he also served as Celebrity Coordinator for the Los Angeles Branch of the American Heart Association and worked with the American Film Institute as an Actor.
At the invitation of the Texas Arts Commission, Gilliard relocated to Houston, Texas to develop a cultural enrichment program focused on keeping youngsters from hanging on the fringes of society. At that same time, work on film productions being shot in South Carolina brought him back home to his native Charleston.
In Charleston, Gilliard discovered there was very little African American theatre being produced locally, despite the city’s growing reputation as a major cultural center. Feeling that he had something to contribute to the community of his birth, he relocated back to Charleston and immediately became involved in the annual MOJA Arts Festival, serving as its Chairman for a number of years. Realizing that visitors and residents had a great appreciation for African American stage productions, in 1995, he founded Art Forms & Theatre Concepts, Inc. with the mission of producing works detailing the African American experience.
Over the course of almost 30 years, AFTC has offered over three dozen new productions, including world premieres of original plays and local and regional premieres of work by nationally-prominent playwrights and theatre makers, such as Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, and August Wilson. The company has also maintained a focus on youth and the arts, including partnerships with the City of Charleston and collaborations with Charleston Development Academy Public Charter School.
In addition to his work with AFTC, since returning to Charleston, Gilliard has worked as Program Director at the Historic Jenkins Orphanage and has served the community on numerous Boards and Commissions. He remains an active member of Greater St. Luke A.M.E. Church.