BLOG: Lessons From Spoletto Festival in Charleston, SC

By Jeffery Kin

My Trip to Charleston, South Carolina for Spoletto was intriguing, fascinating and educational. Since 1977, the city of Charleston has been an international hub for opera, theater, dance and music of all kinds. I was surprised and sometimes shocked at the lack of local support and at the same time amazed by the caliber of performances. I enjoyed everything from a one-woman show about a town battling a race-related shooting to a chamber music afternoon that I didn’t want to end.

Shockingly, as I checked into my hotel, the front desk agent asked why I was in the area and their response to my answer: “What’s Spoleto?” Hence, even the BIG, well established festivals take things for granted and make mistakes. I feel there might be missed opportunities for this nationally acclaimed event, mostly centered on taking for granted that their reputation is all they need. For this first-timer like me, it was a challenge finding some locations and parking, even with today’s Google Maps technology. The lesson? You cannot rely on your past success to elevate and carry over into your future.

I loved, however, how they utilized spaces, theaters and buildings that are used by area institutions year-round, and that the sense of collaboration was everywhere. Could coming out of COVID have hurt their attendance? I assume so, since only the chamber music event I attended was sold out. There were many seats for other events and productions, which is a shame because they were EXCELLENT! I had emailed and spoken with their outgoing Executive Director, Nigel Redden. He was very supportive and actually assisted in connecting me with other festival creators to gain information. I learned early, festival and event organizers help each other—they are NOT territorial and seem to really appreciate the new guy coming onto the scene. I’m excited to see how Sarasota Rising can apply these lessons as we build our own arts festival.

Check out their festival page and see what you think.