For more than four decades, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition has signaled the beginning of what always promises to be a busy Charleston-area festival season. Visitors from across the country and around the world have flocked to the Holy City to be entertained, educated and amazed and to celebrate their passion for art and the natural world.
“It’s the unofficial kickoff to the tourist season. There’s that lull in January that we come barreling out of,” says John Powell, SEWE’s president and chief executive officer.
Powell notes that between Feb. 17 and Feb. 19, around 40,000 people are expected to show up for the much anticipated 41st annual exposition. It is predicted that attendance is about evenly split between visitors and those who live in and around the Charleston-area.
Attendees will enjoy many of the events and exhibits that have captured the imagination of people of all ages since 1983, from an array of wildlife art to Dockdogs competition and birds of prey demonstrations – but there’s also a tantalizing menu of items that SEWE enthusiasts haven’t seen before.
For example, “Wings Over Water,” co-produced by Ducks Unlimited and narrated by actor Michael Keaton, will be shown during SEWE weekend at the Gaillard Center. The film highlights how important the Prairie Pothole Region, which stretches across six Upper Midwest states and Canada, is as a breeding and nesting ground for waterfowl, including a wide variety of ducks. The Ducks Unlimited staff will be available for a question-and-answer session after each showing.
Visitors will be able to learn about the efforts of Ducks Unlimited in the Lowcountry on the Gaillard Center lawn, and wildlife biologist and TV personality Forrest Galante will be on hand with live demonstrations. In the past five years, his work has unearthed eight species that at one time were thought to be extinct.
If you are captivated by dolphins, which are considered to be among the smartest beings in the ocean, you won’t want to miss the National Marine Foundation’s hands-on workshop. Extensive opportunities to learn will be available for visitors of all ages.
Also new to SEWE is the Pacific decoy collection of Richard and Dorothy Wheeler, “the greatest opportunity ever presented on the East Coast to view the best of the West.” The special lecture series will be hosted by decoy specialist Colin S. McNair of Copley Fine Arts Auctions.
The Live Art Series also is on the SEWE agenda for the first time. A large crowd is expected to watch the “Mother-Daughter” Art Series, where two generations of artists will showcase their talents. The “Opposites Attract” Art Series also is on the schedule, with two artists taking on the same subject matter from different perspectives, as is the “Pencil It In” Art Series, which highlights how artists create pencil, scratchboard and graphite sketches.
There’s a lot to learn at SEWE, but, sometime during your visit to the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, you might want to pivot to some family friendly fun. In that case, you should check out the Purina ProPlan Flying Disc Dog Competition at Marion Square, featuring a collection of some of the world's most athletic canines performing amazing flying disc routines.
When SEWE debuted in 1983, it hosted 100 artists and 5,000 attendees. This year, the show will welcome 500 artists, exhibitors and wildlife experts and approximately 40,000 visitors. Powell pointed out that in 2019, the year before the emergence of the COVID pandemic, SEWE generated a $40 million economic impact for the Charleston area.
“Hotels, restaurants, fuel, retail purchases, rental companies, security – it was a shot in the arm for all of our hospitality partners,” he says.
He’s expecting more of the same in 2023.
To learn more about the 41st version of SEWE, scheduled for Feb. 17 through Feb. 19, 2023, visit sewe.com.