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Experiencing Arts and Culture in Aiken

Experiencing Arts and Culture in Aiken

Aiken, SC, was established in 1835 in close proximity to a new railroad system (South Carolina Railroad and Canal Company) that connected the prosperous city of Charleston, SC, to the fertile lands along the Savannah River. The area’s weather was known for its mild winters and lesser humidity than coastal cities. As a result, the town of Aiken became a popular respite for visitors from Charleston in the summer who wanted to escape the coastal summer heat in the 1830s and 1840s. A few decades later, visitors from the north in the winter also discovered Aiken as a way to escape the harsh northern winters in the 1870s and 1880s. Because of these culture clashes, the town’s cultural landscape was influenced both by the local residents and seasonal visitors.

In present day, Aiken is a busy city and the county seat of the similarly named Aiken County. Aiken is part of the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA), which includes multiple towns and cities that are in close proximity to the Savannah River in both Georgia and South Carolina (the Savannah River serves as a natural border between the two states). The largest city in the CSRA is Augusta, GA, but Aiken is also significant in size. Aiken prides itself on being a hub for arts and culture in the CSRA. Throughout the year, there are multiple special events and festivals that highlight area artists.

There are a variety of festivals and special events throughout the calendar year that highlight the arts in Aiken, including the Aiken Antique Show (February), which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary; the Southern City Film Festival (February on Oscars weekend); Aiken’s Makin’ (September); and the Christmas Craft Show for all your Christmas gift needs (December). The Southern City Film Festival and the Aiken Antique Show highlight up-and-coming filmmakers and antiques, respectively, offering two very different cultural experiences. Aiken’s Makin’ is a two-day arts and crafts event hosted yearly in downtown Aiken. The event includes handmade craft exhibits, food vendors and performances by local artists. Craft exhibits feature everything from pottery, wood-crafts, furniture, baskets, stained glass, quilts, clothing, needlecrafts, toys, jewelry, ceramics, art and many other items. The Christmas Craft Show encompasses a broader group of vendors, featuring wares from more than 100 artists from across the southeastern United States.

Beyond special events, many local Aiken businesses highlight area artisans – including potters, painters, sculptors, and other makers – each day. Walk down the wide sidewalks in downtown Aiken and use all of your senses. You’re sure to find an art installation featuring the talents of a local artist or a wine tasting at a local restaurant.

Aiken also hosts a number of annual music events. Each spring, Aiken’s Department of Parks and Recreation presents the annual Hopelands Concert Series. This series takes place over six Mondays in May and June in Hopeland Gardens, featuring local bands and performing groups. Aiken Music Fest is also a six-event concerts series that occurs monthly from May – October. Each concert at Aiken Music Fest features a local opening act, followed by a headlining performance from musicians touring the Southeast. Each May, Aiken hosts the Aiken Bluegrass Festival at the Western Carolina State Fairgrounds. In March, the annual Joye in Aiken event puts the spotlight on local young musicians, dancers and actors.
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