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Spoleto Festival in Charleston, USA – What You Should Know

Great galleries and great performances are never scarce in Charleston, S.C. But each year around this time, Spoleto Festival USA focuses the already artistic eye of this Southern port city even more on all things artsy.

Big things happen at Spoleto Festival USA: symphonies debut, a Chuck Close portrait can grace an official poster, and dances receive their American debut. It’s significant, beautiful, even; but depending on the venue and performance, it can get pretty pricey pretty quickly.

Enter the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Focusing primarily on artists of the Southeast region, Piccolo Spoleto is the perfect complement to the international scope of its parent festival.

Traditional program offerings include visual arts exhibits, classical music, jazz, dance, theatre, poetry readings, children’s activities, choral music, ethnic cultural presentations, crafts and film.

Ticket prices are very reasonable, and many events are free.

The easiest entrance door to Piccolo Spoleto Festival 2011 is the daily Outdoor Art Exhibition, located in the heart of the city at Marion Square.

It’s free and a great way to familiarize yourself with the Charleston visual arts scene — more than 100 artists set up shop — and if you go on Saturday, there’s a bonus – the weekly Farmer’s Market.

Oil painter Hilarie Lambert, who’s been exhibiting at the Piccolo Spoleto Art Exhibition for eight years, says that she starts working in January to build a Piccolo Spoleto exhibition, paying attention to themes and striving to create a cohesive show just as she would for any gallery.

“This is a collector’s forum, and many collectors plan their trip to Charleston around this event,” she explains. “I want to surprise my clients with new work, and I want them to be special pieces.” She works both in the studio and “en plein air” preparing for the show.

Art booth at Marion Square, Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs

Once you’ve completed your afternoon art stroll, go a step further into its varied offerings.

First, if you still have art on the brain, visit the City Gallery at Waterfront Park for a look at Contemporary Charleston 2011: Under the Radar. Sponsored by Charleston Magazine, this free exhibit of eight emerging artists has been getting a lot of local buzz.

Next, settle in for a little jazz. It’s the official soundtrack of the city, and with groups such as the Charleston Jazz Initiative working to document and educate its living history, the musical genre is experiencing a hometown renaissance.

Local soulful Ann Caldwell will be performing multiple times as part of the John Street Jazz series, and she is a wonderful ambassador for the Charleston sound, often singing standards such as “I Got Rhythm.” For this performance focusing more on the spirituals of the African-American community.

For the comically adventurous, there is the ever-expanding Piccolo Fringe Festival, with comedy, improv, one-man shows, and all kinds of acerbic fun. One that sounds promising: The Complete History of Charleston for Morons. Most events in this festival take place at Theatre 99 on Meeting Street, and all tickets for Fringe shows are only $16.

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