Come out to play this summer as part of a 10-day festival that spotlights art and entertainment in Charleston.
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Every June, something magical happens in Charleston. The city becomes a work of art. This year, from June 15 to 24, FestivALL Charleston takes over West Virginia’s capital city with music, dance, theater, and a sea of smiling faces. As summer makes its debut, Charleston pulls out all the stops to invite folks out for a night—or nights—on the town.
Now in its eighth year, the festival shines a light on the region’s colorful arts. “We have everything,” says Victor Grigoraci, one of FestivALL’s organizers. “We have music, we have dance, and we have art. We have plays, we have parades—we have everything anybody would want with respect to a city.”
Every summer as part of the event, music emanates from the riverfront amphitheater, the University of Charleston lawn, street corners, and venues across town. This year, attendees can even look forward to a performance by Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. Public art blooms across the city, bringing a dose of cheer to the mundane and reminding residents of the creativity that flows through the city year-round. Capitol Street—dubbed Charleston’s Village District—closes down for an art fair and children’s art fair, where artists set up in tents that stretch for blocks to display and sell their work, and street performers roam the crowds painting faces, belly dancing, and walking on stilts. “We’re creating a national quality arts and entertainment event,” says Executive Director Larry Groce. “We want it to have artistic integrity and at the same time include the personality of where we live.”
The initial idea for the festival came from a friend of Victor’s, Charleston resident Mary Angel. “I asked what we could do in Charleston to make it a better place to live, work, and raise a family and to promote economic development,” he says. “She said, ‘Let’s do a Spoleto.’” Spoleto is a town in Italy that hosts a world-famous arts festival that, in turn, inspired a festival in Charleston, South Carolina—Spoleto Festival USA. Mary went to the South Carolina festival and thought it was exactly what West Virginia’s Charleston needed.
Victor took the idea to the new mayor. “We have FestivALL today because of Mayor Danny Jones,” he says. “He seized the idea.” The mayor assembled a steering committee in 2004, including Victor and Larry, and that group put on its first three-day event in 2005.
The backbone of FestivALL is collaboration among local arts groups like the Charleston Light Opera Guild, the Charleston Ballet, River City Youth Ballet Ensemble, Live on the Levee, Art Walk, Mountain Stage, and the West Virginia International Film Festival. The first festival focused on coordinating the groups’ efforts to host productions, exhibits, recitals, and concerts in venues across the city under the banner of FestivALL. That spirit continues. “We want to show off as much of Charleston as we can,” Larry says. “We don’t just have events on the boulevard; we have them all over town. We have many good venues here—the Culture Center, Clay Center, Little Theater, the Scottish Rite auditorium. They’re interesting, and this gives people a chance to see them.”
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since that first three-day event in 2005, FestivALL has grown to include national and international acts, mini-festivals, neighborhood parties, and walking tours. “One of the reasons we can do this is because FestivALL is an umbrella event that produces several of the big events, but also presents events that other people produce,” Larry says. “That was one of the ideas—if we’re going to start a festival, it would be smarter to incorporate things that are already going on rather than cut from whole cloth.” Sometimes organizers take over production of a separate event, and sometimes they just promote it or help with fundraising.