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At Aiken Center for the Arts, their mission is clear: to inspire and educate by providing unique visual and and performing art experiences for all ages. They have done this throughout the years by bringing incredible local and world-renowned artists to their galleries on Laurens Street, by offering a variety of classes available to all ages in their studios, and by showcasing exquisite locally handcrafted artwork in their gallery shop for guests to purchase. Aiken Center for the Arts has championed getting anyone who wants to experience art an art experience.
In March, when the pandemic disrupted all of our lives, it greatly impacted not only the nonprofits in our town, but the arts and culture organizations as well. Aiken Center for the Arts falls into both categories and has been shifting
to find new ways to serve our community well, all while dealing with fewer visitors.
“We have all been upended by something over which we have no control,” said Caroline Gwinn, the Finance Director at Aiken Center for the Arts. “We have found ourselves being thrust into circumstances that have faced us to change, to adapt, and to rethink nearly all aspects of our daily life. At Aiken Center for the Arts, we have been forced to retool or close education programs. Our exhibitions and gallery shop were abruptly closed. We were unable to do what the arts center was designed to do: to bring people together to create and experience art and music, and form a community. Our most true source of inspiration and expression is our community.”
The team at Aiken Center for the Arts found unique ways to continue to offer their services to the community in a safe way that kept all of their visitors and students healthy.
“Following health guidelines, we purchased smaller tables to create individual workstations in each of our classroom areas,” said Caroline. “We utilized the larger spaces in
our galleries and performance pavilion to provide a safe space for people to create. Our summer art classes were highly successful. The individual work stations and other measures gave the parents and kids security to come participate. Once they were here, we really saw how much the students enjoyed being together. They all had so much to talk about and express since they had all been social distancing and certainly wanted to share their thoughts and experiences. This summer, our focus was on creativity explored,
and even though our numbers were controlled, we had truly wonderful camps.”
One new way that Aiken Center for the Arts is bringing art to Aiken this fall is through a new book club called Literal Blast! that will focus on four different books and authors. This was a concept that originated in early spring, at the beginning of the pandemic, and is now coming to life after careful planning.
“When we were unable to do what the
arts center was designed to do, to bring people together, we thought about the artists we had in our gallery shop,” said Caroline. “The authors featured in there came to mind as sharing their stories online through book discussions would
be a great way to engage our community. This book club will provide a new platform for people to come together and learn about others in our community who
are writing. In the Zoom format, you can get up close and personal with the authors… from the comfort of your own home. I hope that people will enjoy this opportunity.”
The books offer unique connections to South Carolina and to Aiken, and range
in category from history to biography, mystery, and fiction. There is something for everyone in their Virtual Blast! line
up this fall. Beyond Literal Blast!, Aiken Center for the Arts has a robust schedule lined up for visitors to enjoy this fall. Their fall art classes begin in mid-September and run through December. They
include a bit of everything like classes for Beginning Drawing, Fresh Floral Centerpieces, Plein Air Painting, Block
Printing, Needle Felting, and more. The classes are available for all ages and all skill levels, too.
They will also be welcoming two new exhibitions in their galleries. Downstairs, they will have a special exhibition for Savannah River Site. “Savannah River Site is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year,” said Caroline. “In September, we will be hosting an exhibition called ‘Beyond the Barricade’ which will give visitors
a glimpse of the past and present at Savannah River Site. This exhibit will also include interesting photographs taken by their employees to include nature and other areas.”
Upstairs in the Brooks Gallery, Aiken Center for the Arts will have a curated collection created by The Chicks That Click Photography Club.
“This all-female club started with just 8 members and has grown to include more than 80 members from around the CSRA,” said Caroline. “They will be exhibiting photography inspired by the news that Volkswagen was stopping production of the iconic VW Beetle. The Chicks That Click undertook a photographic journey to capture some of the ways that the VW Beetle has been a part of our lives.”
Whether you choose to support Aiken Center of the Arts in person or from
a distance, the best way to help this nonprofit continue their mission this year is to support the work that they are able to do during a pandemic.
“We need financial support to sustain
the arts and to sustain the artists,” said Caroline. “When you need to purchase
a gift for someone, think of our gallery and our gallery shop. Look for our online art sale catalog in September which will feature artwork created by local and South Carolina artists. While much lingers in uncertainty, our goal is very clear: the longterm sustainability of our arts center and community.”