Festivals offer free art exhibits

From left, Greg McLean and Mckinley Vitale browse Sarah Kargol's monster art at Marion Square at last year's Piccolo Spoleto.

Are you ready? Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto start Friday, and you are going to be able to read plenty of stories about the festivals, starting with The Post and Courier's special section on Thursday and online anytime at postandcourier.com.

For those who are new to the area, the two performing arts festivals run Friday through June 10 and encompass more than 900 performing and visual arts events.

It's always the most artistic time of year in our city because dancers, actors, painters, sculptors, multimedia experts, musicians and just about any artist you could name try to find a niche and get their work seen.

Some of my favorite events are the simplest — and least expensive. And these are easy to schedule in between whatever performances you want to attend.

The best farmers market of the season is the one on Saturday and Sunday in Marion Square. The Festival Market is special because you can wander through some of the best art in town with the Piccolo Spoleto 28th Annual Juried Art Exhibit after you get your food fix.

The exhibit starts Friday and runs the length of the festival. You can stroll from booth to booth and talk to visual artists, purchase artwork and enjoy the shade of the old oaks. The exhibit has become so big that it rings Marion Square, so you don't have to walk far, and you don't have to spend money unless that painting belongs on your wall.

Also, the market includes crafters who bring out their very best creations, so you can find jewelry, painted fabrics, knitwear and local photography — and if you really like the artist, strike up a relationship that will last through the summer.

There are plenty of food offerings, so you don't have to leave the square if you get hungry, and there is always a band to keep the music flowing.

Of course, no start to the Children's Festival that also runs Saturday in Marion Square would be complete without the Seed & Feed Marching Abominable, the zany colorful street band that leads a parade around the square noon-12:30 p.m.

If you didn't get your fix with the craft offerings at the farmers market, wander across the street to Wragg Square, where the Outdoor Crafts Fair goes on Saturday and Sunday.

Artists from across the nation are invited to this juried show, but there is also a great collection of local crafters represented. There you will find woodworkers, silversmiths, stained-glass artists and fiber artists.

The standard is high here even though the admission is only $3 for adults on Saturday and $1 on Sunday. Be prepared to take home your favorites because some of these artists will be here for only two days.

It's the year for “Porgy and Bess,” and what could be more Charleston than listening to the famous opera, written here, while sitting on the steps of the Customhouse?

The maestro for the Friday night concert is Joseph Young, a native South Carolinian, and he will lead the cast of hundreds with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the CSO Spiritual Ensemble and Gospel Choir, plus two international opera stars in highlights from George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's classic work.

The concert is 8-9:30 p.m. Friday behind the Customhouse, and you can sit on the steps, elbow to elbow with your neighbor.

Here are two handy hints: Take a pillow because the surface is hard, and get there early. This is a very, very popular event.

One of the Piccolo Spoleto series that is a delicious respite from the heat and brings you inside our famous sanctuaries is the Festival of Churches & Synagogues.

These are free concerts, usually at noon, with local choirs and musicians.

But since some of the organs are famous instruments and the buildings hold lifetimes of song and praise in them, it's nice to be able to look around and enjoy the architecture while you listen.

Visit piccolospoleto.com for all the details.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or sharvin@ postandcourier.com.