Kulture klash Arts and music extravaganza returns to Charleston after three-year hiatus

After a three-year hiatus, Kulture Klash is returning to the Lowcountry. And like any good comeback story, the arts and music extravaganza this year will offer a healthy mix of new improvements and longtime crowd favorites.

Those who attended any of the previous seven festivals can still expect interactive art installations, circus performers, laser shows and dozens of artists. The venue, however, won’t be quite as industrial as the Navy Yard warehouse it was held in years ago.

And, it is a bit more expensive. Advance tickets in 2011 were $15, while this year they’re $40.

But these two details are actually major improvements for the festival and for the community, according to organizers.

This year, Kulture Klash will be held in Memminger Auditorium, a large event space that’s more centrally located in downtown Charleston.

David Brisacher, the technical director, said the way it’s structured will allow them to get more creative with how they use the space.

“It’s going to be much more professionally done than ones in the past when we just had it in a dirty parking lot,” he said. “This is a state-of-the-art venue where we have tons of cool options of how we can just make the production and the event environment really immersive.”

And while spending more money on a ticket wouldn’t usually seem like a bonus, event-goers this year can feel good knowing that 100 percent of proceeds from all tickets, food and beverage and art sales will benefit Lowcountry AIDS Services for the first time.

“It’s cool that you can have this cool, crazy party and then feel good about ordering that drink because it’s all benefitting the charity,” Brisacher said.

In fact, Lowcountry AIDS Services, which provides a number of support and education services to those who suffer from HIV/AIDS in the community, is the reason this popular arts event was resurrected in the first place.

Brisacher’s event company, Big Hair Productions, has worked with the organization in the past on a number of benefits.

“We were talking about some good fundraising opportunities for them this year, and we were like well, why don’t we bring back Kulture Klash?” he said. “That’s when we teamed up with Gustavo Serrano and Scott Debus, the Kulture Klash founders, along with the Event Cooperative and just made it a group effort ... to bring this event back.”

Maryann Hoyt, owner of the Event Cooperative, said she and Bradley Childs, executive director of Lowcountry AIDS Services, were searching for new ways to draw attention to the nonprofit’s mission.

“In a city like Charleston there are so many causes and nonprofit organizations, it’s so saturated that it can be hard to shine out,” she said. “With Kulture Klash, we want to attract a more diverse crowd and spread our message and say, ‘We’re an integrated part of your community.’ ”

So, you’re probably wondering what that extended hiatus was all about. Because at first, it doesn’t really add up. The original organizers all still get along, the arts community is as robust as ever, and the last Kulture Klash in 2011 drew thousands of attendees, according to Brisacher.

The sole problem was the venue.

In 2011, the parcels of land where Kulture Klash was held in the old Navy base in North Charleston changed ownership, so they were out of an affordable event space that could handle up to 5,000 attendees, explained Debus, one of the founders.

“We just grew too big to have it anywhere,” he said. “Without renting tents and doing it in Marion Square or something, there was just no other place with an indoor/outdoor setting to do something like that.”

Brisacher added that Kulture Klash’s struggle finding an appropriate venue underscores a larger challenge for the young arts community. Because while there may be plenty of places for conventions and fine arts events, he said there aren’t enough options for festivals that want to do large art installations and trapeze artists alongside musical performances.

“Charleston is probably one of the most difficult cities, period, to do stuff like this,” Brisacher said. “There’s a delicate balance between spaces that are too big and too expensive or places that are too small.”

Although Memminger Auditorium can’t support quite as many attendees as Kulture Klash once did, it was the only facility that could work, logistically or otherwise. Still, Brisacher and Debus aren’t complaining.

“We’re really blessed with Memminger being such a state-of-the-art facility right in the heart of downtown,” Brisacher said.

Adding to the momentum of its comeback year, Kulture Klash went so far as to pluck its headlining performer this year from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Mix Master Mike, the DJ best known for his work with the Beastie Boys in the 1990s, will close out the festival on the main stage from 11:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m.

Other artists performing throughout the night include Atlanta-based Cousin Dan, whose sound is part electro-pop, part ’80s R&B; and The Dubplates, Brisacher’s reggae band, who will perform with MC Squared, an award-winning beat boxer.

Dozens of local artists, whose specialties range from classical portraiture to street murals, will have works on display beside one another, in the spirit of the clash-of-cultures theme. Participants include Robert Lange, Nathan Durfee, Patch Whisky, BadJon and many others.

“What we kind of do is just set it up next to each other on a big wall, so Robert Lange will be next to Abigail Marie. It always looks like a fantastical wall, like a salon back in France,” Debus said.

That’s what separates Kulture Klash from traditional gallery exhibits, he explained.

“For our show, we make it so that musicians and artists are getting together and it’s a celebration of the arts more so than just an art show.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.