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Charleston City Guide

By: Janice McDonald

Charleston Arts & Culture

©2006 Charleston CVB Charleston's Drayton Hall is a plantation estate that is open for tours,letting visitors see the period buildings and furnishings.

Charleston has a rich cultural history that dates back its first settlers. In its early days, Charleston was one of the premier cities in the United States and, as such, was a centerpiece for the arts. The 250-year-old site of the Dock Street Theatre is home of the first building ever constructed for primary use as a theater in all of the Americas and it's still in use as a site for theatrical performances.

Numerous galleries and performance venues are available throughout the city and they all come together in the late spring each year for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, which is a 17-day event that encompasses opera, music, dance, and theater and brings in artists from throughout the world.

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Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Charleston

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Charleston

The city of Charleston plays an important role by keeping a calendar of the exhibits and performances that come to town. For an updated list, check out the city's Web site.

The Piccolo Spoleto Festival, hosted in late May to early June in various theaters, churches, parks, storefronts, and streets throughout the city, is considered the creme de la creme when it comes to the arts. Since it began in 1977, the festival has grown to be an internationally acclaimed celebration of music, opera, theater, and dance. Performers from all over the world vie to be a part of the celebration. The schedules are usually announced each January, so it's wise to check the Web site and book early to get good seats.

The Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St) features an eclectic collection of Japanese woodblock prints, portraits of famous South Carolinians like Benjamin West, and a gallery showcasing local artists responsible for the city's cultural renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. One fascinating ongoing exhibit showcases paintings highlighting the history of the Low Country, from its beginning as a British colony to the American Revolution to the Civil War to today.

The City Hall Art Gallery (80 Broad St) features John Trumbell's portrait of President George Washington and Samuel F.B. Morse's portrait of President James Monroe. The building's second floor art gallery grew out of a custom of commissioning artists to paint famous visitors. If you ask, a guide can give you a tour and answer questions.

You can also hear performances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (14 George St), or watch cultural dances at the North Charleston Coliseum Performing Arts Center (5001 Coliseum Dr, North Charleston).

The Dock Street Theatre (135 Church St) presents numerous productions of the Charleston Stage Company. This is the site of the original building constructed in 1736, the very first building in America made specifically for theatrical productions.

When it comes to the arts in general, a good resource to tap is the College of Charleston (205 Calhoun St). It's one of the first colleges in the United States known for its School of the Arts, its theater company, and its ballet. The buildings are right in the heart of the city's Historic District, including the beautiful Sottile Theatre. The School of the Arts often has its own exhibitions, so it's worth checking its schedule at the Web site.

Dozens of art galleries are located in the heart of Charleston on Market, Church, and King streets. Carolina Galleries (188 King St) features art of the Charleston Renaissance period, and the Church Street Inn Gallery (177 Church St) displays oil paintings and watercolors from artists of local and international fame.

Several plantation estates are open for tours to give visitors a glimpse into how Charleston's culture evolved. Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd) and Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashly River Road) each feature buildings, furnishings, and more of their pre-American Revolution roots.

With more than 3,000 historic buildings, Charleston's entire downtown area is a National Historic Landmark. Go to the next page to learn more about Charleston's architecture and landmarks.