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For 17 days and nights the theaters, churches, streets, galleries and parks of Charleston, S.C., will be teeming with artistic life as the 29th Annual Spoleto Festival USA begins.

Photo by Courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA

Piccolo, Spoleto festivals create artistic atmosphere

27 May 2005 | Cpl. K. A. Thompson

For 17 days and nights the theaters, churches, streets, galleries and parks of Charleston, S.C., will be teeming with artistic life as the 29th Annual Spoleto Festival USA begins.

From today through June 12, with more than 120 performances in disciplines ranging from opera and theatre to symphony and dance, Charleston will be transformed into an artistic epicenter. With its ability to transform “Chuck Town” into the performing arts capital of the country, Spoleto Festival USA has established itself as a major arts festival.

The first Spoleto festival took place in Charleston in 1977. The 18th-century city, which is home to the first theater, ballet company and the oldest musical organization in America, was chosen to be the site of the American counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy.

Gian Carlo Menotti began the Italian festival in 1958 as a forum for American artists in Europe.  The festival, with its incorporation of traditional and experimental forms of art, music, dance, theater, opera and visual arts quickly became a haven for artists from various disciplines.

When the organizers of the Festival of Two Worlds began searching for a place to host the American festival, they searched for a city that would offer amenities similar to Spoleto, Italy. Charleston was chosen for its old-world feel, its plethora of theaters, churches and performance spaces, and because it was small enough to be dominated by a non-stop arts event.

“Charleston is a wonderful city, and it seems even more wonderful during Spoleto Festival USA,” said Marie Jacinto, the director of marketing and public relations for Spoleto Festival USA. “There is an energy that you feel only during festival time.”

With the array of different activities and performances taking place during Spoleto, there is something for every art lover to choose from. With a combination of music, theater, art and dance, the festival will bring wide ranges in discipline from classical to temporary and traditional to modern to the historical city. However, Spoleto is not just for aficionados. The arts can be a great source of entertainment, according to Jacinto.

“I think the arts, especially the performing arts, when well done, stir some sort of emotion in us that is different from enjoying action/adventure movies or listening to a rock band,” Jacinto said. “Of course our Wachovia Jazz series offers an opportunity to unwind and enjoy some stars at the Cistern while listening to some of the world’s great jazz performers including Kate McGarry and the Tord Gustavsen Trio.”

In addition to the “high culture” that will be taking place over the next 17 days, Piccolo Spoleto, the city-organized companion festival, increases the artistic options with less-formal offerings. Piccolo, with its lower cost and several free events, serves as a more tangible outlet to the arts and offers about a thousand additional artists performing and exhibiting in the city’s churches, parks, playgrounds, streets and storefronts. Piccolo Spoleto’s program offerings include art exhibits, jazz, dance, theater, poetry readings, film, crafts, children’s activities and ethnic cultural presentations.

Both festivals offer family and children-friendly events. Piccolo will hold several international children’s festivals, which will include performances and arts and crafts from around the world. The Piccolo offerings may be slightly more hands on and better for families with young children. Spoleto offers people with children a variety of entertainment options, but they are geared more toward older children, according to Jacinto.

“There are several events that older children will really enjoy,” Jacinto said. “Especially tap sensation Savion Glover in Improvography complete with a small ensemble of tappers, a jazz/funk band and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Italy’s Colla Marionettes are back with ‘Guerrino Detto Il Meschino,’ a story set in the world of medieval chivalry that children eight and older will enjoy.”

Attending any of the events Spoleto USA has scheduled is a worthwhile way to take advantage of what the Lowcountry has to offer, according to Jacinto.

“The reputation of Spoleto USA is truly international,” Jacinto said. “It’s the only festival of its kind in North America. So we in the Lowcountry are fortunate to have such a renowned arts festival in our backyard.”

Spoleto Festival USA culminates 17 days of complete artistic immersion with an orchestral finale and a fireworks display that takes place June 12 in the landscaped lawns and gardens of Middleton Place Plantation. The plantation is located on the Ashley River, 14 miles outside of Charleston.

For more information on Spoleto or to purchase tickets, go to or call (843) 579-3100. For Piccolo Spoleto information, go to www. or call (843) 724-7305.