Oh Spoleto, Where Art Thou?West Ashley sees limited arts festival events
June 7, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor
Blink too long and the Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto arts festivals will be over, especially in West Ashley where there is only one scheduled event before the June 11 finale at Middleton Gardens.
One of the enduring complaints about the internationally heralded Spoleto Festival USA is that it lasts only 17 days in Charleston, leaving a smaller footprint throughout the rest of the year. Piccolo Spoleto Festival, its city-run little brother is supposed to fill that gap, with more local artists and education, and lower prices.
In recent years, both festivals have made an effort to expand their offerings and events to West Ashley. Last year, in addition to the finale, Piccolo hosted a rebroadcasted a performance of the Spoleto opera “Porgy and Bess” at West Ashley High School.
Last year, Piccolo curated a three-day event in Avondale called chARTarama Mini-Festival, which featured art, dance, and comedy. It was the second mini-festival run by Lava Salon owner and chART founder Geoff Richardson, who also helped transform that area’s visual landscape by introducing murals all over the side of the shopping district’s businesses.
There was also a scheduled Piccolo music show at Magnolia Community Garden behind a former elementary which is still being transformed into an arts, charity, and small business incubator.
This year in West Ashley? Well, … not so much.
In addition to the Spoleto finale, there are currently only two Piccolo events scheduled for West Ashley this festival season. That’s one more than Walterboro, and three less than the posh Bishop Gadsden retirement community on James Island.
The first West Ashley performance has already happened, and it featured the 100-voice strong S.C. Worship Choir last Friday at the Ashley River Baptist Church on Savannah Highway.
That means the only Piccolo event left will be the “La Femme French Horn,” Thursday, June 8 at Holy Trinity Church on Folly Road across the street from the South Windermere Shopping Center.
Scott Watson, director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, tried to boost West Ashley attendance in the Piccolo festival by sending out employees to the Wednesday night farmer’s market here last week to hand out printed cards.
But, of course, it was rained out.
Watson said he was optimistic that the city’s festival would have a bigger presence in West Ashley in the future. But he said there were two main drawbacks on this side of the river: event spaces and interested parties.
While excited about partnering with both churches this go-round, Watson said that finding the right space for an event is crucial. One idea of using the West Ashley Greenway for a pop-up concert could fall afoul of the neighborhood that surrounds it.
“The last thing we want to do is put on an event that no one comes to, or negatively impacts the surrounding residents,” said Watson. He added that the lesson learned from last year’s conjoined presentation of “Porgy and Bess” showed that all outdoor events need an alternate rain site.
Spoleto director of public relations Jessie Bailey echoed Watson’s concerns for event spaces west of the Ashley. “It’s been hard to find venues to hold performances outside downtown Charleston,” said Bagley. “We are now exploring types of spaces to fit our events into parts of the city, like West Ashley.”
“We do use and enjoy Middleton Place, and hopefully our presence will grow” in West Ashley in the future, she added.
Last year, salon owner Richardson was the key “interested party” in West Ashley, hosting chARTarama, which featured a piano marathon kicked off by a performance by Mayor John Tecklenburg.
This year, however, with a new salon in the works in Park Circle, Richardson regretfully was not able to find the time to head up a third mini-festival.
He had hoped someone else in the Avondale area would have stepped up, but he said the other independent businesses already had plenty to focus on. Richardson said he hopes a more “formalized” Avondale business organization soon emerges to help boost efforts like this.
Richardson added that while chARTarama has flourished with the city’s involvement, Watson’s office hadn’t dedicated an employee to expanding the festival in West Ashley in the same way a specific planning staffer was named for this part of town.
Richardson also lobbied for more money and personnel to focus on the arts and other quality of life issues in West Ashley as City Hall works on revitalizing the commercial and transportation corridors in this part of town.
Watson said to keep on the lookout for unannounced performances at the community garden park, once parking issues get sorted there.