Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration | Photo by Alicia Hall Moran

Spoleto Festival USA and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival land in Charleston at a fortuitous time for a local arts community sent reeling by the pandemic year. Not only are the programs and exhibitions a welcome change of pace for 17 days, but they’re also a reminder of the wealth of creativity and artistry around us year-round.

It’s probably been more than a year since you stepped into a theater or into a crowded gallery. From the glitzy Gaillard to your neighborhood dive bar, crowds were kept away from the city’s traditional hubs for performance art and culture.

Sprung from those shutdowns, we experienced some of our favorite local artists and musicians in the only ways we could. Streams, social-distanced shows and pay-what-you-will downloads scratched that itch for a while, but after almost a year of distance, many of us feel a void without these cultural touchstones.

But as we’re able to reconnect over top-billed shows like Spoleto Festival USA’s The Woman in Black or Piccolo Spoleto’s juried art exhibition at the City Gallery, signs are pointing toward the local arts scene picking up where it left off in early 2020.

As contributing arts editor Michael Smallwood wrote in his opening week Spoleto preview:

“This eagerness on the part of audiences to return to Spoleto speaks incredibly well for the future of performing arts in Charleston. Had audiences decided to stay away, it could have signaled anxiety about the upcoming fall and beyond for the performing arts. Spoleto Festival USA will be the first big test for ticketed events this year. So far, things are looking good.”

But we can’t let momentum dwindle after the festivals leave.

Supporting and encouraging public creativity is critical to illuminate and celebrate the culturally diverse, shared experience of living in the Lowcountry.

In every corner of Charleston, independent producers will keep creating and performing in 2021. Downtown, Redux Contemporary Art Center wants to introduce you to local artists, while Charleston Stage, Threshold Rep, Footlight Players and PURE Theatre prep upcoming shows. In North Charleston, Nameless Numberhead continues its residency at South of Broadway Theatre, right around the corner from the North Charleston City Gallery. Farther north, the Flowertown Players continue to delight with community theater, while the Public Works Art Center showcases creativity in downtown Summerville.

Local musicians are setting stages for a big comeback for live shows in the coming weeks as well. Coming off successful pod-style shows at The Bend and Firefly Distillery, Charleston Pour House has also been hosting intimate outdoor concerts, as Charleston Music Hall, The Royal American and others ease back into live performances indoors. And, there’s even more to come.

Through the years, Charleston Mayors Joe Riley and John Tecklenburg have celebrated the opening of Spoleto Festival USA at City Hall:

“Let the music begin, the dancers dance, the choirs sing and the children play — the banners fly and the confetti fall.”

A welcome return, indeed.

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