[image-1] There’s something comforting in knowing that Spoleto Festival is going to open the same way every year. The large black banner announcing the festival, strung across City Hall, has barely visible moveable patches designed to accommodate the year’s particular show dates. This year, May 24-June 9.

The bells ring in St. Michael’s Church. A local religious leader offers an invocation. A Spoleto performer sings the national anthem (this year: bass baritone, Erik Van Heyningen from Salome).

Predictable? Sure. Taken another way: comforting. It’s nice to see an arts fest survive and even thrive after 43 years. It’s nice to have some hope for the future of arts and culture in a rapidly developing city.

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham approached the podium to a good deal of cheering and applause, perhaps for his politics, or maybe just for the hint of something new that he brings to the table as the area’s first Democratic representative since the ’80s.

“Art has never been more necessary than it is right now,” said Cunningham. He talked about the division he sees in the country, and the way that art can connect people, transcend boundaries.

“Art elicits strong reactions,” he said. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. “And forces you to reckon with it.”

Cunningham spoke of discomfort, of growing, and of challenging ourselves to seek out more art, participate more in the community.

Getting comfortable with getting uncomfortable is an admirable goal for any of us. And maybe it sounds a little head-in-the-clouds, but I agree with the congressman wholeheartedly — we really need the arts right now.

Whether you’re catching a show from Shakespeare’s Globe — based on their brief preview today, their shows will be an absolute delight — or just strolling through Marion Square during the Piccolo’s arts exhibition, challenge yourself to look at something new. Speak to someone you’ve never met (with artists visiting from all over the globe, that shouldn’t be too hard).

And when the curtains fall and the festival ends, keep showing up in art galleries and theaters, at comedy shows and live music venues. These city-wide opportunities aren’t going anywhere — for now.