Aiken, SC: A City with an Emphasis on Arts on Culture
Aiken, SC, was first founded in 1835. Its convenient location – close to a new railroad system that connected Charleston, SC, to the Savannah River – and its weather – mild winters and lower humidity compared to the more heavily populated coastal cities – caused the town to retain a decades-long popularity as a seasonal travel destination. During the summer in the 1830s and 1840s, Charleston residents flocked to Aiken to escape their hot, humid summers. During the 1870s and 1880s, visitors from the north in the winter came to Aiken to escape the harsh northern winters. As a result, the town’s cultural landscape was influenced both by the local residents and temporary residents.
Today, Aiken is a thriving city located in Aiken County. Along with being the largest city in the county as well as the county seat, Aiken is also a major presence in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). The CSRA includes a number of towns and cities along the Savannah River in both Georgia and South Carolina, including its largest city – Augusta, GA. CSRA resident to live in one town and work in another and/or drive between South Carolina and Georgia multiple times on a given day. Additionally, many Aiken residents live in Aiken but drive to Augusta, Columbia, or other cities for their jobs. Even with this noticed fluidity, Aiken prides itself on being a focal point for arts and culture in the CSRA. To keep this reputation alive, there are multiple special events and festivals occurring throughout the year that highlight area artists.
Festivals and special events highlighting the arts in Aiken include the Aiken Antique Show (February), a staple for more than 20 years; the Southern City Film Festival (occuring every February on the weekend of the Oscars awards ceremony); Aiken’s Makin’ (September); and the Christmas Craft Show (December). Despite their proximity on the calendar, Aiken Antique Show and the Southern City Film Festival are very different. As you might surmise, the two events highlight antiques and up-and-coming filmmakers, respectively. Aiken’s Makin’ is a popular two-day arts and crafts event in downtown Aiken that draws attendees from other areas. It features a wide variety of handmade craft exhibits, homemade food and local performing artists. Craft exhibits feature everything from wood-crafts, quilts, clothing, pottery, furniture, baskets, stained glass, needlecrafts, toys, jewelry, ceramics, art and many other items. The Christmas Craft Show draws artists from a slightly wider area, featuring more than 100 artists from across the southeastern United States.
Music is also a crucial part of a thriving arts scene, and Aiken hosts a number of notable music events each calendar year. Each spring, Aiken’s Department of Parks and Recreation hosts the annual Hopelands Concert Series. This series features local bands and performance groups, with events happening over six Mondays in May and June in Hopeland Gardens. Aiken Music Fest also plans a six-event series each year; this concert series occurs monthly from May – October. Each concert at Aiken Music Fest features a local opening act, followed by a headlining performer touring the Southeast. The Aiken Bluegrass Festival happens each May at the Western Carolina State Fairgrounds. In March, the annual Joye in Aiken highlights local young musicians, dancers and actors.
Beyond special events, many local businesses highlight area artisans every day. You only need to stroll down main street Aiken and explore. You’re sure to find a wine tasting at a local restaurant or bar or an art installation featuring the talents of an exciting local artist.