The annual North Charleston Arts Fest is now just one month away, set to take place May 1-5. The celebration of arts and culture highlights the talents of national, regional, and local artists and performers in the areas of dance, music, theatre, visual arts, and literature. Performances, activities, and exhibits are scheduled to take place in a variety of venues throughout the city of North Charleston, including libraries, community centers, businesses, and parks. Many of the offerings are free, and those that are ticketed are moderately priced.
Recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society as a Top 20 Event in both 2008 and 2018, the North Charleston Arts Fest is now entering its 37th year. Arts Fest offerings include concerts ranging from classical to contemporary, theatre presentations, dance performances, children’s programs, workshops, demonstrations, lectures, exhibitions, receptions, public art installations, and more. The City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Department, which organizes and presents the event, is introducing some major changes to this year’s festival programming. Most notable is the discontinuation of the two-day Arts Fest Expo at the Charleston Area Convention Center, and introduction of the one-day World Arts Expo at North Charleston Riverfront Park. The new event will be held on Saturday, May 4, from 11:00am-5:00pm, with free admission and parking. “A number of factors have encouraged us to switch our focus in 2019 to a new event that highlights some of the most popular components of the Arts Expo we’ve previously produced at the Convention Center,” explains Cultural Arts Director Kyle Lahm. “The World Arts Expo is our new flagship event celebrating visual and performing arts from cultures around the world. Patrons can enjoy the spring weather while experiencing a diverse line-up of music and dance performances, live art demonstrations, multi-cultural food offerings, art & craft vendors, hands-on activities, roving entertainment, and a kid’s zone.”
Despite this change, Exhibit Hall A at the Charleston Area Convention Center will continue to host the Arts Fest’s Judged Art & Photography, South Carolina Palmetto Hands Fine Craft, and Tri-County Youth Art Exhibitions during the entire run of the Arts Fest, May 1-5. Viewing hours are Wednesday, May 1, 6-8pm (opening reception); Thursday-Saturday, May 2-4, 10am-6pm; and Sunday, May 5, noon-6pm. Another new event called the Arts Fest Exhibition Encore will be introduced in 2019 as a means to spotlight these exhibits. The Exhibition Encore on Sunday, May 5, from noon-6pm, serves as a closing reception and celebration, allowing patrons to view the artwork in a festive atmosphere and make final decisions on purchases. In addition to the vast array of artwork on display, the event offers musical entertainment, live art demonstrations, hands-on activities, and more.
Theatre and dance offerings during this year’s Arts Fest include everything from showcases and improv comedy sketches, to one-woman shows and full stage productions. Award-winning sister act Gracie & Lacy make a dazzling return to the Arts Fest in a dinner theatre performance of Gloriously Gatsby on Wednesday, May 1, at the North Charleston Marriott. Their Jazz Era throwback production showcases the glitz and glam of the 1920s & 30s through song and dance. Theatre 99 will be doing a little song and dance of their own by taking on-the-spot audience suggestions during their popular Improv Riot! comedy show, which is popping up at The Sparrow in Park Circle on the same evening. Lady in White Productions will offer a one-night-only performance of Big Mama on Friday, May 3. The original musical, written by Ade Ofunniyin and directed by Samelia Adams, centers on performers’ experiences as members of the Theatre Owners Booking Association, the vaudeville circuit for African American musicians, comedians, and actors in the 1920s. Arts Fest patrons can also catch a musical at Midtown Productions. Their reprise of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s West End and Broadway hit musical Tell Me On a Sunday has a 15 show run taking place between May 2 and 18. The production stars Allison Sharpley and is directed by Sheri Grace Wenger, who received the 2013 Theatre Charleston Award for “Outstanding Director of a Musical” for her work on this production. Dancefx Charleston will present its second annual storybook show, Wonderland, on Saturday, May 4, at the Fort Dorchester High School Auditorium. The production features a series of dance performances woven together with narrated scenes from the beloved tale of Alice in Wonderland. Fort Dorchester will also host a Youth Dance Showcase featuring performances by Dance Moves Youth Company and Summerville Dance Academy on Sunday, May 5.
This year’s musical offerings vary widely, with numerous afternoon and evening concerts scheduled throughout the five days of the festival. In addition to performances of contemporary jazz, blues, soul, and variety tunes at the usual Arts Fest venues like North Charleston’s public libraries and senior centers, this year’s festival also includes musical offerings at new venues such as The Eternal Father of the Sea Chapel on the former Charleston Naval Base and Midtown Theatre. Another addition to the 2019 Arts Fest music line-up is the Park Circle Pickin’ Crawl, taking place in four locations along East Montague Avenue in the Olde Village area of North Charleston on Sunday, May 5. The day-long series of bluegrass & Americana concerts are all within walking distance from one another with no cover charge at any of the venues.
Visual art offerings unique to this year’s festival include Honoring the Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement, an exhibition of quilted swing coats by Patricia A. Montgomery of Oakland, CA; Balancing Act, a collection of new paintings by the Arts Fest’s poster design competition winner Joseph Kameen; and The Culture: Part 2, a display of new work by the City of North Charleston’s current artist-in-residence Quintin Chaplin. Other visual art exhibitions include the aforementioned Judged Fine Art and Photography Exhibitions, Tri-County Youth Art Exhibition, and the inaugural Tri-County High School Sculpture Exhibition, and the 18th Annual South Carolina Palmetto Hand Juried Fine Craft Exhibition on view in Exhibit Hall A at the Charleston Area Convention Center; the 14th Annual National Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition installed at North Charleston Riverfront Park; and the 13th Annual African American Fiber Art Exhibition: BLACK GOLD on display at North Charleston City Hall. In addition, the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department is continuing its partnership with the College of Charleston School of the Arts Sculpture Department to present public art installations in green spaces throughout the City. These installations, as well as a number of the exhibitions presented as components of the festival, will remain on view well after the festival concludes on May 5.
Complete information on all 2019 North Charleston Arts Fest offerings, including event and exhibition details, site maps, and social media contest rules, are available at NorthCharlestonArtsFest.com. Applications are currently being accepted for booth space at the World Arts Expo at Riverfront Park and Arty Block Party. Entry instructions for the Festival’s Judged Fine Art Exhibition, Judged Photography Exhibition, Tri-County Youth Art Exhibition, and Tri-County High School Sculpture Exhibition, as well as volunteer sign-up forms are also available. Forms can be downloaded at NorthCharlestonArtsFest.com/apply.