Arts and Culture in Aiken
Aiken, SC, was established in 1835, and due to its location – close to a new railroad system that connected Charleston, SC, to the Savannah River – and its weather – mild winters and offering a slight reprieve from coastal humidity – the town gained popularity amongst visitors from Charleston in the summer (escaping the coastal summer heat) in the 1830s and 1840s and visitors from the north in the winter (escaping the harsh northern winters) in the 1870s and 1880s. 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 county seat, Aiken is part of the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA), which includes a number of towns and cities along the Savannah River in both Georgia and South Carolina, including its largest city – Augusta, GA. (Since all of the towns in the CSRA are within approximately 25 miles of each other, it isn’t uncommon for a 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.) 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.
Music is a major part of a thriving arts scene, and Aiken hosts a number of annual music events. Each spring, Aiken’s Department of Parks and Recreation presents the annual Hopelands Concert Series. Taking place over six Mondays in May and June in Hopeland Gardens, this event features local bands and performance groups. Another musical event in Aiken is Aiken Music Fest. Also a six-event series, this concert series occurs monthly from May – October. Each concert features a local opening act, followed by a headliner 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 highlights local young musicians, dancers and actors.
Other festivals and special events highlighting the arts in Aiken include the Aiken Antique Show (February), which recently celebrated its 20th year; the Southern City Film Festival (February on OSCAR weekend); Aiken’s Makin’ (September); and the Christmas Craft Show (December). The Aiken Antique Show and the Southern City Film Festival highlight antiques and up-and-coming filmmakers, respectively. Aiken’s Makin’ is a two-day arts and crafts event in downtown Aiken. It features handmade craft exhibits, food and performing 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 features more than 100 artists from across the southeastern United States.
Beyond special events, many local Aiken businesses highlight area artisans – including painters, potters, and other makers – every day. You only need meander down main street Aiken and explore. You’re sure to find a wine tasting at a local restaurant or an art installation featuring the talents of a local artist.