College of Charleston’s Cato Center for the Arts opened to the public on Saturday. Charleston has been trapped beneath a cold snap for weeks, but the bone-numbing temperatures didn’t detract from art-hungry crowds curious to get a first look at this new and improved art center. In fact, attendees received five stories worth of culture — way above the usual recommended daily dosage.

Stacked above the new Halsey Institute space on Calhoun are hallways and classrooms, dedicated to the education of art students at the College of Charleston. For all of Saturday afternoon, these five floors featured performances from some of the Lowcountry’s best young singers, actors, and photographers. The Halsey hallway featured a jazz foursome and a tinny tenor saxophone, embracing hat- and coat-clad attendees with warm, welcoming chords at the entrance. On the second floor, baritone Yun Hao Jiang shook the rafters, and on floor three, we were immersed in a College of Charleston voice lesson, where faculty members explained the proper way to pronounce “Ohs” and “Ahs.”

And who knew the three little pigs could sing in perfect operatic pitch? My favorite event of the afternoon was a real, live rehearsal of “little German pigs.” The director was there. The cast was there. We were there. As an audience, we had the opportunity to watch students and faculty working together to develop and hone what will soon be an on-stage performance for the masses.

Perhaps this was what made the day so special. The Cato Center for the Arts is a building. It cost a lot of money. It took a lot of time. But it’s still just a building. And Saturday wasn’t about the architecture — not about the nice shiny floors, big windows, or even the gigantic darkroom on the fifth floor. (With its fancy sliding doors and massive size, I felt like I was on a spaceship. Beam me up, Scotty.) No, it wasn’t about the building, but about the students. The building is for them — current and future — and it was nice, for a day, getting a look inside their world and admiring their passion.

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