If you go

WHAT: North Charleston Arts Festival

WHEN: May 3-11

WHERE: Charleston Area Convention Center Complex and North Charleston Performing Arts Center, plus other venues around town

COST: Various prices; many events are free

MORE INFO: For a full schedule, venue info, tickets and more, go to NorthCharlestonArts Fest.com, email culturalarts@northcharleston.org or call 740-5854.

Soon, North Charleston City Hall will be transformed into a three-floor exhibit of visual art. Soon, the Charleston Area Convention Center and North Charleston Performing Arts Center will burst at the seams with music, dance and storytelling.

On May 3, the 31st annual North Charleston Arts Festival kicks off a nine-day, nonstop entertainment extravaganza.

Centered at the PAC and convention center, the festival includes events and installations at 35 other venues around the city.

It’s organized in two parts, the “Main Event” and daily “individual events.”

The former takes place Saturday and Sunday at the PAC and in the exhibit halls. The ongoing events, which extend through May 11, are hosted by area schools, churches, retail locations, public spaces, community libraries and hotels.

Highlights? There are many, says Marty Besancon, director of the city’s cultural arts department and founder of the festival.

The young urban violinist Daniel D. will play a set, including songs from his third album, “Epic Sounds” (3 p.m. Saturday, PAC stage).

La Flaca Flamenco Ensemble will get your blood flowing with traditional and contemporary flamenco music and dance (noon Saturday, PAC lobby stage).

Ann Caldwell and The Magnolia Singers will offer Gullah tunes and spirituals (1:30 p.m. Saturday, PAC lobby stage).

The InterACTive Theater of Jef is a variety act of comedy, magic, juggling and more (10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Exhibit Hall stage).

The River City Dixieland Jazz Band presents New Orleans-style jazz (4 p.m. next Sunday, PAC stage).

The Plantation Singers celebrate Lowcountry heritage (2 p.m. next Sunday, PAC lobby stage).

Next Sunday afternoon also will feature three bands on the PAC courtyard stage, Topper (classic rock), Blair Crimmins (Ragtime jazz) and The Coppertones (beach music and R&B).

And the Exhibit Hall stage will have a series of entertainment geared for young people, including a puppet show, magic show and interactive presentation.

The festival began in 1982 as a one-day community celebration at Park Circle, Besancon said. When the coliseum opened in 1995, the festival located there for a weekend and added programming. In 2001, the convention center was finished and the festival expanded to nine days.

Visual art has been an essential ingredient for many years, said Besancon and arts coordinator Ann Simmons.

The festival includes a judged photography competition (convention center), an outdoor sculpture show and competition (Riverfront Park), a display of quilts (City Hall) and more.

Reynier Llanes, a Cuban artist living and working in Charleston, has curated a show called “Contemporary Artists of Pinar Del Rio, Cuba,” which can be seen on the third floor of City Hall.

Pinar Del Rio, in the western part of the island, about 100 miles from Havana, is Llanes’ hometown, and the show features 32 paintings by friends, colleagues and teachers he has collected over the years, plus a couple of his own.

“When I was in Cuba, I admired a lot of those artists,” Llanes said.

He met many of them while enrolled at Escuela de Introdores de Arte in Pinar Del Rio, a school that opened in 2000. “What I love in this exhibition is that you can identify each artist. You can read the story behind each painting.”

The symbolism is rich, the subject matter diverse, the aesthetic styles varied. The paintings are good examples of magical realism, abstraction, surrealism, expressionism and post-impressionism, he said.

“When I decided to do the show, I realized they were artists that needed exposure.”

The idea really was already developing five years ago, when Llanes first came to the U.S., settling first in Naples, Fla., and working with famed Lowcountry painter Jonathan Green.

“I had this vision,” he said. “If I can make it, I want to help my friends.”

Since then, he has been buying art and arranging for its export from Cuba, not always an easy process.

Most of the Cuban art on display during the festival is for sale, he said. A public reception is planned for 6-8 p.m. May 9.

Among the many musical acts at the festival is the first-time appearance of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra Chamber Ensemble, which will reprise a version of the Hit Parade set of tunes originally produced by the late jazz impresario Jack McCray.

The show, presented by Jazz Artists of Charleston and featuring band leader Charlton Singleton, is scheduled for 8 p.m. May 9 at the Olde Village Community Building, 4820 Jenkins Ave.

JAC Executive Director Leah Suarez said she, McCray and Singleton met with Besancon two years ago with the intention of putting on a show like this, but McCray’s death interrupted those plans.

Now that the chamber ensemble is up and running, with intentions to tour, it made sense to include it in this year’s arts festival, she said.

“It’s one of the easiest events we’ve been able to put together because (Besancon and her team) have been so receptive and so supportive, welcoming us with open arms,” Suarez said.

The acoustic set in an intimate venue likely will draw many of the jazz orchestra’s patrons who live in North Charleston, she said.

“It’s a great opportunity,” one made especially appealing by the cultural arts office. “Marty has such great energy that she brings to the table, and the staff is so nice, organized, eager to work,” Suarez said.

What else is on tap?

A May 4 choral concert by Lowcountry Voices honoring gospel greats of yesteryear, 5 p.m. Christ Temple Church, 1339 Sumner Ave.

A May 8 Art Walk in the Olde Village.

Street dancing on May 10.

A steel drum concert in Wannamaker County Park on May 11.

Screening of the movie “A Face in the Crowd,” presented by the Greater Park Circle Film Society at 8 p.m. May 11 at the community building.

And the free grand finale and food truck rodeo, 6-9 p.m. May 11 at Riverfront Park to include a fireworks display.

Simmons said the festival draws about 30,000 patrons. “Many events are free, so there is no reason not to come.”