Two words to describe the Charleston Area Convention Center complex Saturday afternoon: sensory overload.

At one end of the hallway, artisans taught children how to fold origami and weave local sweetgrass simple basket patterns. A few feet away a juggler tossed bowling pins on a stage, next to juried art by local students. And just around the corner from a photography exhibit a troupe of Colombian dancers shook their hips and clapped their hands.

Outside in the courtyard vendors sold everything from gyros to funnel cakes to Italian ice, while a Latin band played "La Bamba." A muffled boom punctuated it all as, behind closed doors to one of the exhibit halls, spirited girls in skirts and ponytails from across the country competed in The Grand Finale cheerleading and dance competition.

Friday kicked off the annual North Charleston Arts Festival, which began in 1982 as a one-day community celebration in Park Circle. It now runs for nine days and in 2008 was named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Now in her 10th year of bringing her "Annie's" vending trailer out to the event, Annette McBrayer can gauge its success in sales of popcorn chicken, cheese fries and ice-cold drinks. The Walterboro resident said this year's turnout seemed about normal.

"It's a good little festival," she said through the window. "Everybody's always jovial."

Inside one exhibit hall devoted to gemstones, fossils and crafts made from them, customers paid 50 cents to $1 per pound for Mexican stone. Then Wyena and Van Atkins with the Lowcounty Gem and Mineral Society cracked the seemingly unexciting rocks, called geodes, to reveal crystals inside.

Van Atkins said 90 percent of the stones sparkle on the inside. For that lucky 10 percent of customers, "we give them another one," Atkins said.

The annual festival, which moved to the Coliseum in 1995 and then to the Convention Center in 2000, promotes diversity of arts and the cultures they represent.

Wearing an artificial flower in her hair and flowing skirt, Julia Jaskwhich waited for her Afro-Latino dance troupe, Buen Ache, to perform. Though locally based, the group's 12 members include women from Trinidad and France and a man from Vietnam.

"I have a lot of international friends," Jaskwhich explained, her fellow dancers standing beside her.