While the annual Spoleto Festival USA brings artists of international acclaim to the Lowcountry for 17 days, the city of Charleston’s companion Piccolo Spoleto Festival is vital to the arts in its own special way: It highlights outstanding local and regional artists with a diverse lineup of music, theater, dance, literary and visual arts.
Director Scott Watson describes Piccolo Spoleto as a gathering where Charlestonians, along with their friends and neighbors, go out and support artists who are also friends and neighbors.
He said this year, the 45th year of Piccolo Spoleto, will “proudly celebrate what’s made us special through those past decades and also bring in some new twists.”
Cornerstone programs like the Sundown Poetry series and the Charleston author series at Blue Bicycle Books will be accompanied by new programs, such as a one-night-only Gap Gallery show at Redux, an exhibition centered on Black mermaids and so much more.
There’s also a wide range of music, dance and theater performances with acclaimed professionals and emerging artists, including K-12 students and art majors at the College of Charleston. Add in community-based events like outdoor concerts and marching band parades and even a sandcastle building contest. Result: There is truly something for everyone at this year’s Piccolo Spoleto, May 26 to June 11.
Visual art events to enjoy all festival long
For the duration of the festival, Marion Square is transformed into an outdoor art market. More than 50 Charleston area artists will be on hand to sell work, answer questions and engage with the public under tents filled with paintings, photography, drawings and more. The Outdoor Art Exhibition at Marion Square is on view daily during the festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday throughFriday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday. Admission is free. Just around the corner at Wragg Square is the Piccolo Spoleto Craft Show. Expect high-quality original works created in a variety of craft media.
To see the work of talented young artists in grades four to 12, visit Upper Lance Hall at the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street. The Art of Discovery exhibit will present student artwork that speaks to themes of mental health, self-discovery and the search for meaning. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free.
At the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, nationally recognized textile artist Torreah “Cookie” Washington of Charleston has curated an exhibition titled Celebrating Black Mermaids: From Africa to America. The work of dozens of esteemed fiber artists from across the United States will be on view May 26 to July 9 with an opening reception 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. May 27.
Watson said this show will explore a “fascinating cultural tradition expressed by contemporary textile artists.”
Usually, the City Gallery hosts the Piccolo Spoleto Juried Show during the festival. This year was scheduled a bit differently, however, with the juried show closing on May 7. The works selected by juror Harriett Green for first, second and third places will be on view for the duration of the festival at the Cannon Street Arts Center. Those winning works are by artists Chris Bilton, based in Eutawville, South Carolina, Hirona Matsuda, a Charleston-based assemblage artist and Janet Swigler, a fiber artist from Columbia.
One night only: Gap Gallery and Redux
The pop-up Gap Gallery, led by Charleston-based artist and organizer Marie Carladous, will present an exhibition in partnership with the City Gallery and Redux Contemporary Art Center 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 26. The one-night-only event at Redux offers an opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their work while connecting with the vibrant visual arts community in Charleston.
“There seems to be a dynamic of artists who value the opportunity to have their work shown together but aren’t necessarily looking for a white cube gallery experience,” Watson said, adding that this event might attract a different crowd than, say, the outdoor art market at Marion Square. “And that’s something we’re trying to do, engage different audiences.”
Theater offerings around town
The Threshold Repertory Theatre will host five productions during Piccolo:
• A Yank in Scotland, the telling of one man’s story of loss and discovery
• Cognac and Roses, A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe, a program where Poe’s best and most loved works are told by six master storytellers
• The Book of Will, a play about Shakespeare and his friends
• Booger Red, a one-man show written and performed by Jim Loucks
• UnShakeable, an uplifting story of two actors with memory loss, presented in collaboration with the Charleston Opera Theater and the Charleston Symphony
Theater 99 hosts the “Piccolo Fringe Festival” and offers three chances to see its founding improv group The Have Nots plus three shows of Charleston’s original all-female improv comedy group Mary Kay Has a Posse. There’s also a one-woman show called TOUCHED by Jet Eveleth from Animals (HBO) and AP Bio (Peacock).
And it wouldn’t be Piccolo Spoleto without music! Kicking off the festivities at 8 p.m. May 26 is the Sunset Serenade with Charleston Symphony, Piccolo Spoleto’s annual curtain raiser at the landmark U.S. Custom House. This free outdoor concert features the Charleston Symphony under the direction of Artistic Director Yuriy Bekker, plus local jazz musician Alva Anderson as a guest artist.
Piccolo is partnering with Lowcountry Voices to present at 5 p.m. May 27 the “Black Broadway” program at Charleston Music Hall. Lowcountry Voices is widely admired for its concerts of African-American spirituals and gospel music. Under the direction of Nathan L. Nelson, the musical revue will include music from Porgy and Bess, The Color Purple, The Wiz, The Lion King and more.
The Young Artists Series highlights the talents of the musical performance majors at the College of Charleston. Watson said the program emulates a balance of great local talent alongside visiting experts. Every evening during the festival, the Hill Gallery at Cato Center for the Arts will be filled with music ranging from classical to jazz.
A recital by the Charleston Symphony Youth Orchestra at the Charleston Music Hall will showcase nearly 100 musicians aged 9 to 18 from more than 20 schools throughout the Lowcountry. The program engages and inspires young musicians in a collaborative environment through mentorship from Charleston Symphony musicians. It’s free to attend the recital at 11 a.m. May 29.
Memorial Day celebrations
In celebration of Memorial Day, there are two chances to parade with the Seed & Feed Marching Abominable, a street band from Atlanta — the late night “pajama march” from 10:30 p.m. to midnight May 27 and the “patriotic parade” 11 a.m. to noon May 28.
On May 29, Hampton Park hosts the patriotic tradition of the festival’s Memorial Day Concert. This year features the combined Charleston Concert Band and Columbia Community Band in a concert ranging from rousing marches to Broadway show tunes, concluding with a stirring musical tribute to the armed forces. It kicks off at 3 p.m., and it’s recommended to bring chairs or blankets to enjoy the concert in the park.
Don’t miss out on this plethora of opportunities to celebrate what makes Charleston’s artistic community special. For events during the second half of the festival, check out our second special Piccolo Spoleto issue on June 2.
To see the full Piccolo schedule, visit PiccoloSpoleto.com.
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