Welcome back, Spoleto Festival

Kanji Segawa, a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs "Takademe" Friday during the opening ceremonies for the Spoleto Festival 2012 at Charleston City Hall.

The Spoleto Festival USA’s lithe dancers, meticulous musicians and exacting directors have done some heavy lifting during the festival’s 35-year history here. As Mayor Joe Riley pointed out at yesterday’s annual opening ceremony in front of City Hall on Broad Street, they have transformed Charleston.

They have put Charleston on the world’s cultural map and they have set the kind of high standards that challenge Charleston and its citizens.

Those are pretty impressive accomplishments for artists who are here only a week or two. And a pretty generous legacy for the Lowcountry.

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said that Charleston stands out as the only place where an arts festival is “hosted by the entire city.” Indeed, he said it serves as a template for other places that want to integrate arts into the area’s life.

He cited studies that identified what makes people love where they live. They are social opportunities, openness and aesthetics, and “Charleston is a case study” in those attributes.

Mayor Riley credited the festival with motivating the city to design excellence in all areas, including new parks, performance halls and subsidized housing. And he said it has introduced children, and adults, to a world of grace and beauty.

For the next 17 days, artists and Spoleto’s staff will do the heavy lifting again so that the rest of us can listen and watch, laugh or cry, concentrate or relax, love it or leave it. We can encounter new things and embrace comfortable favorites.

The festival has an estimated $55 million impact on Charleston. Participants and audience members stay in hotels, dine out, shop and take pedicabs.

It is a chance for residents to experience the arts, to see Charleston through the eyes of visitors and be as enchanted by it as they are.

Welcome back, Spoleto Festival. We’re glad you’re here.