Every Spoleto, Marion Square fills with dozens of tiny tents. Their occupants endure 17 bug-infested days of heat, humidity, and rainstorms. Though Donald Rumsfeld would be proud of such delicious torture, this is no internment camp for dangerous Piccolo protesters. Instead, the brave souls who run their sweaty booths actually pay for their place in the sun and strive to enter the juried art show. However, as with the Mafia or the Mickey Mouse Club, once you’re in, you’re in for life.

A sole judge chooses his or her favorite artworks, and the winners are given ribbons that they proudly display on their booths. Along with special mentions and merits, there’s a “Mayor’s Purchase” selection; this time around, J. Michael Kennedy’s landscape “Awesome Awendaw,” peppered with passionate blues and reds, joined the City’s collection.

While the tastes of judge Joe Miller of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff in Boone, N.C., run along harmlessly traditional lines, there’s a fair amount of eye-catching, imaginative art to accompany his choices. From the Munchian colors and swirling brushstrokes of William Davies’ “The Grove” to the delicate realism of Ray Davenport’s structural studies, there’s a bewildering array of different styles in the 100-plus booths.

A big hit with lovers of colorful, cutesy art, Sandy Phillips is a two-time Piccolo poster artist. Thankfully, there’s more to her work than storybook fluff. She shows enough versatility to evoke Van Gogh, Beatrix Potter, and John Tenniel, with detailed figurative work and a palette of vivid purples and reds that creates a feeling of laughter and youthful play. The children she paints have their backs to the viewer for extra self-projection, and trees are bursting with life and growth, barely contained within their frames.

K.C. Collins makes oil and pastel landscapes full of light and air, painting the foreground first, then the background to facilitate the hazy summer look. “Intercoastal” balances blue and white with a burnished land mass on the horizon; “Tuscan Reflections,” despite the appearance of two gonadic shapes on the right-hand side of the canvas, is remarkably soothing.

Abstract offerings are colorful this year, particularly in the case of Elaine Berlin who uses acrylics to show busy, confluent blocks (“Gridlocked”) or varicolored windows. Her seascapes also have an abstract quality, capturing deep currents and wave patterns. “The Waverunner” draws us deep into the water, as if the swell’s about to crash on top of us. Comparing favorably to the Expressionism of Arshile Gorky, Berlin’s work is not recommended for people who get seasick.

The Outdoor Exhibition’s still got plenty of prissy watercolors and innumerable retreads of the city’s landmarks, but it’s also a show where you’ll find superb photography (Scott Henderson), barbed wire studies (Dennis Clevenger), and even a toilet seat with George Bush’s face inside, squirting water from his brain (Steve Jordan’s “Altered State”). Belying its tourist-luring reputation for safe, decorative art, the exhibition provides an opportunity to meet resourceful local artists who are striving to make interesting work in a competitive environment; watch them demonstrate their work; and see the sheer amount of art that’s available to Charlestonians, if they know where to look.

OUTDOOR JURIED ART EXHIBITION • Piccolo Spoleto’s Visual Arts • FREE • On view through June 11 at 10 a.m.-5 p.m. • Marion Square, corner of King and Calhoun streets • 724-7305

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