This storied South Carolina city will surprise you with all the arts it has to offer
Words by Paige Townley
Aiken, South Carolina, is a historic and beautiful southern city known for equine sports. Though the city has become quite the hotbed for anything and everything polo over the last 130-plus years, the Winter Colony—as it had become known so many decades ago—offers so much more beyond thoroughbred horses and polo fields. Aiken, in fact, is also a thriving metropolis for all things art. From fine art and film to music and theater, practically any type of art can be found in Aiken.
Aiken Center for the Arts
Since 1972 the Aiken Center for the Arts has served as the community’s hub for promoting a wide variety of arts and cultural experiences for artists and art lovers of all ages. The facility teaches, inspires, and encourages through art educational classes, fine art galleries, exhibitions in five galleries, cultural activities, films, musicals, and even juried shows and competitions.
Center for African American History, Arts & Culture
The Center for African American History, Arts & Culture offers a variety of educational resources and interactive programs to educate and inspire visitors about the city’s significant history. It all started in 1881 when W. R. Coles, an African American Presbyterian missionary, moved to Aiken and started a church and school for freed slaves. Although he started out in a small house, over the years the mission and programming expanded through construction of the Immanuel Institute where it still resides today.
At Aiken’s Amentum Center for the Performing Arts, there’s almost always a show. The nonprofit theater plays a frequent host to a wide variety of shows, and it even offers a Youth Wing to encourage and inspire young people with an interest in theater. It does all of this with dozens of volunteers, from actors and directors to stage hands, lighting/sound personnel, and even set designers.
Art isn’t limited to a venue in Aiken. It can actually be found all over city. There are a variety of murals throughout the downtown area and beyond. Kitting Around Aiken, a new and widely popular permanent public arts installation and tribute to young foxes fascinates visitors of all ages as they stroll the city’s vibrant downtown district. Another artistic highlight is Horseplay, which has become an iconic feature of the city. Inspired by the painted fiberglass horse statues in Saratoga Springs, New York, Horseplay features 30 colorfully painted horses that are located all around Aiken and each features a unique design.
Amp the Alley
Live music and Aiken go hand in hand, thanks to Amp the Alley. An annual free concert series held each Thursday at The Alley in downtown Aiken, Amp the Alley brings in bands and musicians for weekly events that combine live music and art with food, fun, and, of course, cocktails!
Aiken Music Fest
The music never really stops in Aiken, particularly due in part to the Aiken Music Fest, a music series that takes place one Saturday night each month. The event draws bands from throughout the region and the nation, helping to make these performances an enjoyable and unforgettable evening entertainment experience. Starting each year in the spring and going well into the fall, Aiken Music Fest is hosted at Highfields Event Center, which is just a few blocks from downtown Aiken and provides six acres of grassy fields ideal for families and friends to hang out, enjoy the music, and even snack on food from the local food trucks that always make an appearance.
Ready to visit? Plan your trip at VisitAikenSC.com.