It’s true that Charles Wadsworth’s retiring as director of Spoleto’s chamber music series has been a big story. It’s also true that violinist Geoff Nuttall’s appointment as Wadsworth’s successor has been a big story.

But the truly big story of 2009, the one that will have lasting ramifications for the city for years and years to come, has hardly been discussed. Why? Because we can’t see it yet. The seeds have only recently been sown.

What I’m talking about are venues.

Last year, Spoleto opened the Memminger Auditorium after spending $6 million fixing it up. In February 2010, it hopes to reopen the Dock Street Theatre after a two-year, $20 million renovation. In the middle of this year’s festival, an anonymous gift of $20 million was pledged in order to jump-start further giving toward a $105 million upgrade of the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium.

These projects come from a long-time public-private partnership between the city and the festival. Basically, they’re scratching each other’s backs. Spoleto needs venues, but market forces have been unkind. The loss of the Garden Theatre is only one example. The city, moreover, needs the festival — its revenue potential and the prestige it brings. For them to work together toward creating venues is a no-brainer, especially when the ancillary benefit is that other arts groups get to use the venues the rest of the year.

How can locals afford them? That’s a question for another time. For now, few will argue whether the Memminger is a joy to experience. Anyone who’s seen Don John (or any of Charleston Stage’s productions) knows this. And few, once they see it, will likely complain about the Dock Street. I’ve toured it twice now, and I look forward to the opening. It won’t please everyone, but reasonable people will see why it’ll be worth the wait.

And now attention is turning toward the Gaillard, the armpit of our performing arts community. I don’t have qualms about whether it should be rehabbed. My concern is that it’s done well. If I hadn’t seen what’s been done with the Memminger and the Dock Street, I might have serious reservations. But I don’t. If they can raise the money to start by 2011 — and in a city like ours, in which folks are land-rich but cash-poor, this is an enormous if — the money will likely have been well-spent.

If all goes according to plan, by the middle of the next decade, Charleston will have three major arts venues. And that, not retirements or appointments (however important those are), is the real story of 2009.

Five moments to remember

A.E. Housman knew a poem was good if it made his skin bristle while shaving. Bottom line: Who can say what’s good art and what’s not?

When the stage goes dark, the critics stop writing, and the festival starts planning for next year, what are you going to remember?

I suspect shows that sent a tingle down your spine. We can argue about aesthetics, but no one can tell you how you felt.

Here are five shows that did for me what good poetry did for Housman.

Dogugaeshi: The silver-maned fox with wide-open eyes appearing, disappearing, and reappearing amid gorgeous and ornately decorated slides all accompanied by an exotic three-string Japanese guitar. Just magical.

Don John: The dead father of one of Don John’s conquests dressed in his Army finest and standing beneath soft light with snow gently falling on his head. It’s one of John’s hallucinations, but a beautiful image, too.

Good Cop, Bad Cop: A woman pretending to be a cat who is preparing to pounce on a rolled up piece of tape. On the wall behind her, we see the the same woman in a video interview recounting the experience that we are about to see, as if she were on a reality TV show. She says: “Oh, yeah. I was all about that.”

Story of a Rabbit: Hugh Hughes putting on his tie while at the same time a video is projected on the wall behind him of his dead father putting on his tie. The resemblance is striking — and the metaphor so deeply moving.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet: Two dancers who seem to be lovers move as if they are one body, then two, and then one again. They break from each other, and she steps against a shadow, which turns out to be another dancer — perhaps her secret lover. The trick of light was stunning and marvelous.

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