MOJA offerings run the gamut

“Carolina Jam,” the 2012 MOJA Arts Festival poster image by James Denmark.

Every year around this time, the streets and venues of Charleston come alive with the colorful sights and festive sounds of the MOJA Arts Festival.

This year marks the 29th anniversary of this festival that celebrates the African-American and Caribbean cultures.

“Moja” is actually a Swahili word meaning “one,” and it is oneness that is being celebrated for 11 days. The festival begins Thursday and will continue through Oct. 7.

Many of the events are free, and others are priced modestly, $5-$35.

Expect to see a variety of events including visual arts, classical music, dance, gospel, jazz, poetry, R&B music, storytelling, theater, children’s activities, traditional crafts, ethnic food and more.

MOJA also has an extensive educational outreach component with workshops in public schools and a senior outreach in area homes.

We were lucky enough to catch up with a few key people involved in the festival, including Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs Executive Director Ellen Dressler Moryl and local artist Torrea “Cookie” Washington, who has curated an exhibit for this year’s event.

Q: What inspired the creation of this particular type of festival many years ago?

Moryl: Established in 1979 to celebrate African-American and Caribbean arts and culture in the Lowcountry, the Charleston Black Arts Festival evolved into what is known today as the MOJA Arts Festival, an annual 11-day festival of visual arts, classical music, theater, poetry, storytelling, dance, educational and senior outreach, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, children’s activities and traditional crafts for an audience of 50,000 people.

MOJA stimulates and celebrates cultural harmony within the community and encourages participation in and access to a rich variety of traditional arts and cultures, as well as educational programs. MOJA’s mission is built around the concept of building bridges of understanding and respect for the beauty of artistic and cultural expression among all parts of the community.

Q: How do you feel that the MOJA Arts Festival has affected people in the Lowcountry?

Moryl: It’s raised the consciousness of the community about the importance of African-American and Caribbean-American culture and how it has enhanced culture all over the Lowcountry. In addition, a lot more people have been coming out to enjoy all of the variety that the festival has to offer.

Q: Cookie, as someone who has been part of the Charleston creative community for quite some time, how do you think MOJA impacts the community?

Washington: I think that MOJA can be a marvelous showcase for local talented artists and musicians of all kinds. Good art can educate as well as entertain.

Q: Tell us a little bit of how you will be participating in MOJA this year.

Washington: This year I will be promoting the “Fin-Tabulous” art exhibit I have curated that is now on view at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, “Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore: a Fiber Arts Exhibition.” I will be giving private tours and a couple of lectures. I will also, of course, go see the offerings from Art Forms & Theatre Concepts and as many of the dance programs as I can squeeze in.

Q: Which performances are crowd favorites from year to year?

Moryl: The Reggae Block Dance, the jazz events, the Classical Encounter and the Finale at Hampton Park.

Q: What are you most excited about seeing this year?

Moryl: International opera singer Denyce Graves at the Dock Street Theatre in cooperation with Opera Charleston, rising star violinist Seth Gilliard at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, international jazz star Will Downing (with opening band the Oscar Rivers Quartet) at Family Circle Stadium and the fabulous mermaid show at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park.

Washington: This year it has to be, “Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore: a Fiber Arts Exhibition,” and the block dances.

There really are so many things going on in coordination with MOJA that it’s impossible to fit it all here. If you have to pick and choose, make sure you hit the big ones:

The MOJA Arts Festival Opening Reception 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St.

The Caribbean Street Parade and Opening Ceremonies at Brittlebank Park, Fishburne Street and Lockwood Drive, that starts at 6 p.m. Friday.

The Reggae Block Dance 6:30-11 p.m. Friday at Brittlebank Park.

Heritage Day at the Charleston Farmers Market 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday in Marion Square.

The Classical Encounter with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves at the Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St., on Sunday; the show starts at 7 p.m.

R&B Concert: MAZE featuring Frankie Beverly and Joe on Oct. 6 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 68 Hagood Ave.; the gates open at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8 p.m.

The MOJA Finale 3-9 p.m. Oct. 7 at Hampton Park, 30 Mary Murray Blvd.

Get details on events and download a program at

Purchase tickets in advance at the MOJA box office, 180 Meeting St., or call 866-811-4111. Tickets for most events also can be purchased the day of.

Local artist Savannah Rusher grew up in Myrtle Beach, where she said “the amusement parks, neon and marketed theme of eternal summer were abundant.”

Her upcoming show, “Poolside,” is inspired by that culture.

Her vibrant and nostalgic compositions often are created using fluorescent pigments and salt water, which seem an interesting ode to Myrtle Beach, as well. She also works with printmaking, photography, watercolor and acrylics.

Join her for her opening reception 6-9 p.m. Friday at Christophe Chocolatier, 90 Society St. Call 442-0164 or email

“Think edge,” said Gris Galerie co-owner Elizabeth Bowers.

With the mission of promoting alternative art and artists, this edgy, new pop-up gallery has been doing a great job.

For its fourth installment, it is featuring New York-based photographer Mia Berg on Friday night at the Charleston Music Hall.

Berg’s series “Forest and Field” is all about the relationship of the human form to nature.

“Since graduating from Parsons School of Design in 2007, Berg has had four solo shows around New York City and has been a part of numerous group shows.

“Her adoration of Charleston and a chance meeting over brunch brings Berg back to the Lowcountry to showcase her self-portraits,” Bowers said.

Join them for the opening reception 6-9 p.m. Friday at the Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St. Entertainment and refreshments will be provided.

Call 754-5533 or email

Inspired by the Lowcountry, Kiawah Island artist Shar Duffy’s oil paintings are breathtaking landscapes depicting the beautiful hues of the surroundings we’re lucky to live in every day.

When she moved here 12 years ago, Duffy felt so inspired by the environment that she started really studying how to paint.

After numerous classes with famous artists and lots of hard work on her own, she’s excited to showcase her endeavors through October at the Real Estate Studio.

“I am moved by the ever-changing marsh and expansive landscape on Kiawah Island,” Duffy said. “After moving to a home on the Kiawah River, I became enamored with the complexity of the colors in every sunset. When people see my work, I’d like them to feel a moment of awe, from the intense feeling of a storm to the light emerging from a sunset.”

The Real Estate Studio is at 214 King St., and Duffy’s show will be on display until Oct. 23. Call 722-5618.

If you’re not already in love with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s amazing musicals, get ready to fall as Sheri Grace Wenger directs “Tell Me on a Sunday” at Midtown Productions.

Wenger summed up the show: “This delightful and moving one-woman musical charts the course of a young, British hat designer, newly arrived in New York. She has come to follow her boyfriend, a New York-based musician she met in London, and she’s brimming with optimism for love and success as a New York designer. But alas, disappointment kicks in upon arrival, which sets her on a path that takes her from New York to L.A. and back ... all in the course of 75 minutes.”

“Tell Me on a Sunday” features some of Lloyd Webber’s most famous songs, including “Take That Look Off Your Face,” “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad” and the haunting ballads “Unexpected Song,” “Nothing Like You’ve Ever Known” and the title song, “Tell Me on a Sunday.”

The London Times has called this musical “achingly gorgeous.”

There will be performances at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 4-6 and 11-13, with 3 p.m. matinees Sunday and Oct. 7. Tickets range $10-$25 and can be purchased by calling 795-2223 or online at

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