Confetti rains down on the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., on Friday, May 25, 2012. The internationally known arts festival was opening its 36th season. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Another edition of the Spoleto Festival USA opened Friday amid a brass fanfare, a shower of confetti and reminders of how important the arts are to cities.
"Spoleto, as far as I know, is the only American arts festival to be hosted by an entire city," Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts told a crowd of several hundred people gathered in front of Charleston City Hall.
"City and towns change when you bring the arts into the center of them and I can think of few better examples than Charleston," he added.
The 17-day festival that opened Friday is the 36th season of the arts festival established here in 1977 by the late composer Gian Carlo Menotti as a companion to his Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.
The internationally known Charleston festival features more than 140 performances on stages throughout the city. When the companion city-run festival, Piccolo Spoleto, is included, it will mean almost 800 performances.
Landesman said University of Pennsylvania researchers have determined that a commitment to the arts leads to increased civic engagement by residents, increased child welfare and stronger economies.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who was instrumental in establishing Spoleto in Charleston, said Spoleto has meant that Charleston cannot accept anything but the best "whether it's the way we design housing for the poor, build parks or remake highways, build a performance hall, care for the hungry or the homeless or build the world's best and newest airliner."
The first 787 built at Boeing's new $750 million plant South Carolina plant that opened last year in North Charleston took to the sky on Wednesday.
Also on the porch of Charleston City Hall on Friday was Mayor Daniele Benedetti of Spoleto, Italy. He brought greetings from Charleston's sister city and invited Riley to visit when his schedule permits.
Riley opened the festival after repeating his annual wish that the festival will remain forever. After confetti showered the crowd, Kanji Segawa of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed a dance.
In addition to the Ailey company, this year's Spoleto features the opera "Kepler" by American composer Philip Glass. It's the American premiere of the opera and commemorates Glass' 75th birthday as well as his long-standing relationship to the festival.
A second Spoleto opera is the American premiere of "The Phoenix Pavilion" by Guo Wenjing, a contemporary Chinese composer. It features an orchestra of four traditional Chinese instruments blended with Western instruments.
Other offerings include a concert by vocalist k.d. lang, the return of Dublin's Gate Theatre and the always popular chamber music program.
The finale is June 10 at Middleton Place Plantation outside Charleston, with fireworks planned after a concert by creole musician Cedric Watson.