Spoleto Festival USA: How a Festival of Two Worlds collided in Charleston

spoleto festival usa

Photo by Spoleto Festival USA

Leigh Webber

Table of Contents

Although the city was once touted as America’s 1‐preserved secret,” in 1977 The New York Times suggested the cat was out of the bag when Gian Carlo Menotti created the first American version of his renowned Festival of Two Worlds here in Charleston.

An annual summer event held in Spoleto, Italy, the Festival of Two Worlds (founded in 1957) is turning 62 this year, with its “sister event” of Spoleto (founded in 1977) entering its 43rd season. The name for Spoleto stems from + pays tribute to the location of the Festival of Two Worlds.

So why here? The location of Charleston was selected by founders Menotti, Christopher Keene, + others due to its historic charm, wealth of theatres, churches, + performance spaces. They were able to capture the spirit of Spoleto, Italy, through the Spoleto Festival – in a locale that was intimate enough to captivate the city, yet cosmopolitan enough to provide a backdrop for performers from around the globe.

For 17 days and nights each spring, the festival, which has an annual budget around $7 million, hosts over 150 performances, sells over 60,000 tickets, and, in 2017, generated $3.1 million in ticket sales.

In 2016, the CofC School of Business reported that the festival generates about $42 million in economic activity (or about $2.5 million each day of the festival), and that the cumulative impact over the 40 years, direct + indirect, has exceeded $1 billion.

Featuring both renowned + emerging performers across a multitude of disciplines, the festival has catapulted our city as a cultural hub, and is recognized around the globe as America’s premier performing arts festival.

You can learn about all of the shows here, find the entire schedule here, check out a map of participating Spoleto Sips bars + restaurants here, buy this year’s poster by Laura Ownes here, + check out a tour of the venues here.

Are you planning on attending any of this year’s performances? Here are a few theater etiquette tips, + here is where you can purchase tickets.