The true big story

(Hint: it's not Wadsworth's retirement)

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It's true that Charles Wadsworth's retirement has been a big story. It's also true that violinist Geoff Nuttall's appointment as Wadsworth's successor as director of Spoleto's chamber music series, has been a big story. But the truly big story of 2009, the one that will have lasting ramifications for the city for years and years to come, has hardly been discussed. Why? Because we can't see it yet. The seeds have only lately been sown.

What I'm talking about is venues.

Last year, Spoleto opened the Memminger after spending $6 million fixing it up. In February 2010, it hopes to reopen the Dock Street Theatre after a two-year, $20 million renovation. In the middle of this year's festival, a wondrous and anonymous gift of $20 million was pledged in order to jump-start further giving toward a $105 million upgrade of the Gaillard.

I should say right here that these are the result of a long-time public-private partnership between the city and the festival. Basically, it's scratching backs. Spoleto needs venues, but market forces have been unkind. The loss of the Garden Theatre is only one example. The city, moreover, needs the festival — its revenue potential and the prestige it brings. For them to work together toward creating more arts venues is a no-brainer, especially when the ancillary benefit is other arts groups can use them the rest of the year.

I know, I know. How can locals afford them? I'm not going to get into that right now. Even so, no one can argue whether the Memminger is a joy to experience. Anyone who's seen Don John (or any of Charleston Stage's productions) knows why it is. And no one, once they see it, will likely complain about the Dock Street. I've toured the building twice since the beginning of Spoleto and I look forward to its opening. It won't please everyone, but reasonable people will see why it's been worth the wait.

And now attentions are turning toward the Gaillard, the armpit of our performing arts community. I don't have any qualms about whether it should be rehabbed. My concern is that it's done well. If I hadn't seen what's been done with the Memminger and the Dock Street (and, for that matter, what the festival did to its headquarters on George Street), I might have serious reservations (well, I might not either; I really don't like the Gaillard). But I don't. If they can raise the money to start work by 2011 — and in a city like ours, where individuals are land-rich but cash-poor, this is an enormous if — the money will likely have been spent well.

If all goes well, by the middle of the next decade, Charleston will have three major arts venues. And that, not retirements and appointments (however wonderful those are) is the real story of 2009.

(above is courtesy of The Post and Courier: an option for the exterior of a renovated Gaillard)

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