Let Spoleto begin 36th edition of arts festival follows big day of ticket sales

At noon today, a series of speakers and musical performances officially opened the 36th Spoleto Festival USA. (Aasimah Navlakhi/postandcourier.com)

Before this year’s Spoleto Festival USA kicked off, there was a run on the box office.

The 36th annual arts festival got under way Friday afternoon on the steps of City Hall, following a big day of ticket sales.

Nigel Redden, general director of Spoleto Festival USA, milled about the crowd before the festivities began, greeting patrons and friends.

“Thursday we had one of our best ticket sales days in the history of the festival,” he said. “Our website was down for six hours because we had so many people trying to buy tickets.”

In order to accommodate the soaring numbers, Spoleto has made extra seating available for events like “Making Up the Truth” by Jack Hitt, and added a performance of “Leo” on May 27.

“I hope this kind of excitement continues throughout the festival,” Redden said. The festival lasts 17 days, closing June 10.

Nearly 800 people sat in chairs along Broad Street or huddled in the shade of St. Michael’s Church to witness the opening ceremony. Guests enjoyed the music of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Brass Ensemble, tenor Gregory Schmidt’s rendition of the National Anthem, and a surprise solo dance performance by Kanji Segawa of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Spoleto USA board Chairman Carlos Evans introduced featured speakers Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Daniele Benedetti, mayor of Spoleto, Italy; and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who officially opened this year’s festival.

Riley’s opening remarks emphasized the importance of the arts in Charleston.

“The arts are not just frills, are not extras, are not nice things that happen,” he said. “The arts are essential. The arts are transformative. And nowhere is that more evident than in this city.”

Riley closed his brief speech with a show of Southern hospitality spoken in Italian.

“Benvenuti a Charleston” — welcome to Charleston — “benvenuti a Spoleto USA,” he said.

Visitors and natives of the city alike turned out to celebrate the festival’s ceremonious commencement. During his speech, Riley also stressed the importance of the festival to children and the memories it provides them.

Bridget Hinson, of James Island, said she has been coming to Spoleto since she was a little girl.

“They used to have huge puppets that paraded around Marion Square. I’ll never forget those,” she said.

Others, however, are attending the festival for the first time.

“I know a lot about all the artists,” said Alex Pioggia, a junior arts management student at the College of Charleston. “I’m most excited to see ‘The Animals and Children Took to the Streets’ by 1927.”

Chris Baker is a Newhouse School graduate student.