Spoleto Festival USA

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1977

Gian Carlo Menotti was a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Italian-American composer who had a passion for introducing popular audiences to opera. In 1958, he had founded the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, a festival that drew hundreds of thousands of people to see and hear music, theater, and dance performances. In the 1970s, he decided he wanted to bring the same experience to America, and got other composers and music-lovers on board. A search led them to Charleston, South Carolina, as the perfect city in terms of setting and amenities.

The first Spoleto Festival USA in 1977 was a success, and Charleston became its permanent home. Since then, the festival has become a 17-day phenomenon, with more than 700 events attended by up to 80,000 people. It has become one of the world’s leading music festivals, presenting more than 200 world or American premieres, and hosting budding artists who later become acclaimed, like Joshua Bell, Renée Flemming, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Philanthropy has made the festival possible from the beginning. Today, ticket sales provide half of the event’s revenue, and an equal amount (more than $3 million per year) comes from donations large and small. Major gifts come from a pool of more than 600 annual donors. Private giving is likewise central to the physical plant that hosts the musical and theatrical performances. The city-owned auditorium which is the festival’s largest venue recently got a $142-million renovation with exactly half paid for privately.