Few people today know the history of Spoleto Festival USA’s founding as intimately as David Rawle. In fact, Rawle was instrumental in the Festival’s founder’s decision to select Charleston as a home for the American counterpart to the Festival of Two Worlds. In all these years, Rawle has been an ardent supporter of Spoleto and its artists, even serving on the Board of Directors for a time. In his own words: “In the mid-1970s, I was so passionate about Spoleto’s birth in Charleston because I knew it represented excellence and that it would catalyze all other arts organizations to reach higher levels of excellence. And that’s exactly what has happened.”
Rawle is also a champion of Theodora Park, a greenspace at the corner of Charleston’s George and Anson streets. He petitioned the city to allow a beautification of the space, and one can still find him meticulously caring for the public space.
This Festival season, May 26 to June 11, Rawle will combine his two passions: Spoleto and Theodora Park, when the greenspace becomes an open-to-the-public photo gallery of Geoff Nuttall portraits, taken by longtime Festival photographer William Struhs. For the entirety of the Festival, the Theodora Park exhibition will remain open 24-hours a day. Ahead of the alfresco art-space’s opening, Spoleto spoke with Rawle about the ongoing outdoor celebration of our musical maverick.
What was your relationship with Geoff?
Geoff was a friend, and we knew one another for many years. I always thought that if Spoleto had a “mascot,” it could be Geoff Nuttall. He represented everything one hopes Spoleto can be. He was a great artist, a great person, a great leader. He cared about his fellow artists, and he cared about our community. Geoff had a remarkable talent for making chamber music accessible without compromising artistic excellence. He made us all feel welcome and comfortable at chamber music concerts. As a result, we gave ourselves over to the music, and it transported us.
What sparked the exhibition in Theodora Park?
It just felt like the right thing to do. Theodora Park is about excellence and accessibility. That is, we have sought to create a beautiful park that is as distinctive and exquisite as Charleston’s famous private gardens. And to make it a public space, welcoming to all. That was Geoff: excellence and accessibility. So it felt like a good fit, especially when Spoleto is celebrating Geoff with its special concert on opening night.
Tell us about the exhibition’s setup?
There will be a row of eight photographs, each measuring 48″ x 32″, along the southern side of the park, facing George Street. Since the Gaillard is directly across George Street, the photographs will be very visible to people walking to or from the Gaillard throughout the Festival. Every evening, in addition to Theodora Park’s regular landscape lighting, there will be special lighting on each of the photographs. I think it will be very dramatic and very beautiful.
How did you choose the photographs?
The photographer, William Struhs, has photographed every Spoleto season since 1977. He has an extraordinary archive of images. He generously shared many of his photographs of Geoff, and we selected eight that were not only exceptional individual images but also worked well with one another.
What’s on your must-see list for Spoleto this year?
I think the best way to experience Spoleto is by combining things you know and love with things you’ve never heard of. In the very early years of the Festival, people often asked what the word “Spoleto” meant. Charles MacKay, who worked at the Festival, used to jokingly say that it meant “unmade bed,” because letto is the Italian word for “bed.” I used to say that it meant “trust me,” as in: “Try some things you don’t know anything about. Take a chance. Be curious. Adventuresome. Why not?!”
Interested in celebrating Geoff Nuttall through a glorious night of music? Get tickets here.