What to see and what to skip at the North Charleston Arts Festival 

Spoleto Junior

Since 1982, the North Charleston Arts Festival has worked to prove that the Holy City's northern counterpart has more going for it than a high violent crime rate, endless strip malls, and the stench of paper mills. What began as a one-day event in Park Circle has grown into a nine-day arts extravaganza that attracts more than 30,000 visitors to the Lowcountry.

"It started out as a community event, and it keeps that spirit, but we've been around 29 years, and I think it really is becoming more of a tourist attraction versus just a community arts festival," says North Charleston Arts Coordinator Ann Simmons.

In addition to a weekend-long Main Event, the festival features a huge range of happenings all over North Charleston, from Wescott Plantation to the Olde Village. The schedule is almost overwhelming in its breadth, offering everything from music performances to art exhibits to street dances. We weeded through the filler (puppet shows, sock hops, dinner theater) to bring you our top nine picks for the 2011 North Charleston Arts Festival.

Arts Festival Main Event
April 30-May 1. Free. North Charleston Performing Arts Center (PAC) and Charleston Area Convention Center

The North Charleston Arts Festival spans over nine days, but the Main Event packs the biggest punch into a convenient block of time and a single location. More than 40 performances will take place on four themed stages around the Convention Center complex. There's the PAC Auditorium Stage, which will have the most general offerings, like Adande Dance Company, the Charleston Community Band, and Charleston Stage's The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet. The PAC's lobby stage will have a "cultural heritage" focus, with Scottish, Russian, Flamenco, and Native American dancers, among others. The Courtyard Stage will have bands from all different genres (blues, rock, reggae), and the Exhibit Hall Stage will offer kids' entertainment. The event is rounded out by roving entertainers, arts and craft vendors, creation stations, a gem and mineral show, and an antiques and collectibles show. And yep, all of that is free.

Lowcountry Classic Concours d'Elegance
Sat. April 30, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Free. Olde Village, Park Circle

Check out a wide range of Jags at the Jaguar Society of South Carolina's formal car show in the Olde Village. Aficionados of the British car company gather every year to show off their rides, ranging from early models to the latest and greatest. The cars will be lined up along East Montague so you can peek into the interiors and under the hoods. Irish group Keltic Ties will perform from 1-3 p.m. Find out more about JSSC at jaguarsocietysc.com.

Contemporary Gospel Concert
Sat. April 30, 7:30 p.m. $10 + service fee. North Charleston Performing Arts Center

This show features nine finalists from the McDonald's Choir Showcase, as well as big-name gospel acts like Kevin LeVar, VaShawn Mitchell, and Bishop Paul S. Morton. For more gospely goodness (this time free), head to Charity Baptist Church for the Gospel Music Showcase on Sun. May 1 from 5-7 p.m. Performers include Simply Blessed, Anointed Voices, Jametta Campbell, Soul Stirrers, and more. Hallelujah!

Art Walk
Wed. May 1, 5-8 p.m. Free. Olde Village, Park Circle
Park Circle takes a Broad Street tradition to East Montague with this free event celebrating local artists. Businesses, restaurants, pubs, and studios along the strip will open their doors to show off works as well as live demos. The Art and Fine Craft Co-Op Gallery at the Meeting Place is hosting an opening reception as well. Lime & the Coconuts and Lane Gregory will provide musical entertainment.

Quilt and Fiber Art Exhibition Reception: Art/Humanity
Thurs. May 5, 6-8 p.m. Free. North Charleston City Hall

Master quilter Torreah "Cookie" Washington curates this exhibit of quilts and fiber arts. Jessica Minahan will perform jazz, blues, and spirituals.

Fashion Show: Quilts You Wear, Clothing for the Body and Soul
Fri. May 6, 5:30-7:30 p.m. $15-$25. North Charleston City Hall

California-based contemporary folk and textile artist Rachel D.K. Clark presents a collection of coats, vests, and capes from her original pattern line. Clark has been creating wearable art since 1973, and her garments often reflect a political or personal statement. This particular line is inspired by various world cultures. She's also offering three quilting workshops, ranging from $45-$65. See more at rdkc.com.

Olde Village Street Dance and Reggae Street Dance
Fri. May 6, 6:30-10 p.m. Free. Olde Village, Park Circle

This two-part event starts out with a set from Congdon & Co., who will play a blend of pop, rock, jazz, and beach music. Afro-Latino dancers Buen Aché will perform between sets, and then the Reggae Street Dance will take over at 8:30 p.m. with music from Da Gullah Rootz.

Lowcountry Indie Shorts Festival
Sat. May 7, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Free. Olde North Charleston Picture House

Witness the wave of new filmmaking talent from across the state. The Lowcountry Indie Shorts Festival, hosted by the Greater Park Circle Film Society, features short indie films with introductions from filmmakers. Each film will be followed by a special Q&A session. Get there early for good seats. To see an even younger set of filmmakers, check out the Student Film Festival on Wed. May 4 at the Olde Village Community Building. This free event features shorts from students ranging from middle school to college.

Arts Festival Grand Finale
Sat. May 7, 6-9 p.m. Free. North Charleston Riverfront Park

Bid adieu to the festival in style with a riverside evening packed with performances. There will be a shag demo, cute kids' performances, a poetry show, dancers, music, and fireworks. Bring a lawn chair and cash for the food vendors.


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