Tim McManus turned his video production studio and its surrounding complex into a vibrant public art corridor, with murals, like this one by Jason Woodside.
Hed Hi Studio
Curating colorful works on Upper King Street
Tim McManus had just moved his video production company, Hed Hi Media, into a studio on Upper King when buyer’s remorse set in. It was 2014, and he had already started to renovate the space formerly occupied by the Center for Photography. Pulling out of the deal would be complicated. “I thought I had made a mistake.”
Enter Shepard Fairey. The renowned street artist and Charleston native happened to be painting a mural in the same complex a few buildings down—one of four in the city as part of an exhibition at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. A client of Hed Hi, the Halsey had commissioned a short film on Fairey’s installations. One day during filming, the artist and crew took a break from the heat at McManus’s new space. “There was this kind of creative energy that was swirling around that afternoon, and I remember [thinking] if we can replicate this and keep it going, then it’s not a mistake,” he says.
Nine years later, the creative energy is still swirling strong. Not only has Hed Hi thrived, but the space has become the locus of a public art corridor project spearheaded by McManus, whose experience with Fairey sparked a deep fascination with street art. And now, he’s transformed it into a pop-up gallery for works he describes as the intersection of street and surf art.
A College of Charleston alum, McManus dabbled in photography and surf-instructing before he found his calling on the business side of creative projects while working for a magazine out of Atlanta. He set a goal to own his own business before he turned 40, which he realized in 2013, with a month to spare, when he bought the video production unit from his then-employer Production Design Associates, a local event firm.
After a Silicon Valley start-up client was swallowed up by Oracle, which then hired Hed Hi, the phone didn’t stop ringing. By 2017, McManus employed 14 staff between Charleston and an outpost in Berkeley, California, and was on the road two weeks out of every month, allowing him to indulge his passion for street art. “Inevitably, I’d have some time to kill so I started looking for Shepard’s murals or just murals in general.”
Inspired by his sorties to public art corridors such as London’s Shoreditch and Wynwood Walls in Miami, he began to imagine the Fairey mural in his studio complex as one of many. “I started thinking, ‘Somebody should paint murals on these walls’,” he says. “And then I realized nobody was going to do that unless I was going to do that.” McManus reached out on Instagram to New York artist Jason Woodside, who painted one exterior wall of Hed Hi in a vivid geometric pattern. Other projects from the likes of San Francisco graffiti writer Apexer, Belgian artist Adele Renault, and local Jonathan Rypkema soon followed. “The long-term goal is that this spot will have a sense of discovery for people—like, ‘Oh, what is this place?’”
More and more people have come to know the space, for its bright walls, as well as the pop-up shows McManus has been curating there. When the pandemic hit, Hed Hi’s calendar of corporate gigs—chock-full for 18 months out—evaporated in a matter of days. Like many employers, McManus shifted his staff to remote work and was faced once again with whether to keep his studio. In his idle time, he caught the documentary Beautiful Losers about a group of so-called DIY artists, including Fairey, and the Lower East Side gallery, Alleged, that launched them to success. “They built this community around this one space,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I could craft a community of artists that had a certain vibe that I liked?’”
Tim McManus turned his video production studio and its surrounding complex into a vibrant public art corridor as well as an inspiring and ephemeral space for pop-up art shows, such as March’s “Statement Pieces: A Departure from Neutrality,” the gallery’s largest exhibition to date.
McManus bided his time through COVID by making a wish list of the artists whose work he admired. Fast-forward to his one-night-only “Water Show” in September 2021, featuring works by surf artists such as Kate Barattini and Taylor Faulkner. By all accounts, it was a hit with some 300 people attending. Since then, he’s averaged about a show a month. On tap for May: “Check It,” with Southern California surf artist Andy Davis and legendary surfboard shaper Jon Wegener.
Hed Hi’s business is back, but McManus is no longer traveling at the same frenetic pace. He’d rather focus on forging connections at home, spending more time with his family—wife, Cassie; daughter, Tucker, 14; and son, Angus, 12—at their new home on Folly Beach and planning his next shows. “[The pop-ups] are kind of an experiment,” he says. “The community and the friendships I’ve built have certainly made it worth it.” For now, he’s content with focusing on shows that last one night, or a few days, tops. “It’s just like street art itself, there’s a huge sense of impermanence to it all. Some of that’s represented in surfing, you know. The swells don’t last forever.” —Margaret Loftus
Watch the murals at McManus’s Upper King Street studio complex come to life:
April 28: “Continua”
Local artists Jonathan Rypkema and Adam Eddy
Friday, 6-10 p.m.
May 20: “Check It”
West Coast surf artists Andy Davis and Jon Wegener
Saturday, 6-10 p.m.
654 King St., hedhistudio.com
Photographs by (portrait) Aleece Sophia & (mural) Bella Barber