Exploring the Vibrant Art Scene in Charleston
Finding artistic inspiration in Charleston isn’t difficult. Surrounded by lush gardens, historic architecture and the natural beauty of the Lowcountry, the Holy City has long been a magnet for talented artists and creative minds.
It was only a matter of time before Charleston received recognition as a global art destination. With a diverse array of galleries, museums, year-round festivals and multicultural events, the city has a variety of art experiences to be enjoyed.
Ready to discover Charleston’s artistic side? As you stroll through the city’s cobblestone streets, be sure to check out these places to experience the city’s vibrant art scene.
Fine Art Galleries
Hoping to take a piece of Southern charm home with you? Step inside one of Charleston’s many art galleries, and you’ll find a diverse collection of stunning pieces by both regionally and internationally acclaimed artists.
Conveniently, most of these art galleries are located in the same general area in Downtown Charleston: one on Broad Street (known as “Gallery Row”) and the other just a block or two away in the charming French Quarter neighborhood.
Gallery Row on Historic Broad Street
Appropriately called “Gallery Row,” this series of fine art galleries on Broad Street is a top destination for art-lovers. You are sure to find a unique treasure to take home from this cultural mecca that features the work of award-winning artists from the Lowcountry and beyond.
The only difficult part will be deciding which work to choose! Sculptures, oil and acrylic paintings, watercolors, stone, pottery, glass, photography — there is something along Broad Street for everyone.
Don’t miss the Mary Martin Gallery for a varied selection of paintings and sculptures. Named one of the 25 Best Art Galleries in America and Best Gallery in South Carolina, this gem is full of high-quality contemporary pieces and creative works.
French Quarter Art Galleries
If beauty is what you’re hoping to find in Charleston, take a pleasant stroll through the French Quarter. You’ll pass by some of Charleston’s most beautiful gardens and historic homes on your way to the string of fine art galleries in this neighborhood.
The French Quarter boasts a large selection of fine art and jewelry in various styles and mediums. From traditional to contemporary pieces, the Holy City’s artistic talent is on full display.
For contemporary art, stop by Robert Lange Studios on Queen Street. Voted Best Gallery by the Charleston City Paper, the gallery offers a unique art experience for those who tire of traditional Charleston landscapes and scenery.
If traditional art is better suited to your tastes, the Lowcountry Artists Gallery will have plenty of artwork for you to enjoy. The oldest artist-owned and -operated gallery in Charleston is home to a stunning collection of artwork by local, regional and national artists.
First Friday Charleston Art Walks
One of the best ways to experience Charleston’s art galleries is by participating in the Charleston Art Walk, which occurs on the first Friday of March, May, October and December. On these days, galleries in downtown Charleston open their doors to visitors from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
This gives visitors an opportunity to chat with the artists and sip on complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres as they take in Charleston’s thriving art scene.
Art Museums and Exhibitions
With nearly 350 years of rich history, Charleston has no shortage of museums and exhibits. Step inside these museums and explore displays of art from centuries past, as well as contemporary offerings.
The Gibbes Museum
Opened in 1905, the Gibbes Museum is one of the oldest museum buildings in the South and the only visual arts museum in Charleston. Featuring a combination of innovative exhibits and permanent collections, Gibbes Museum is a must-visit for art lovers.
Peruse the museum’s paintings, sculptures, miniature portraits and decorative arts, each providing a glimpse of the era in which it was produced. Along with art from the past, you can also explore the artwork of talented regional artists who offer a taste of Lowcountry heritage.
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
If you’re less interested in history and more fascinated by contemporary art, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art should be on your list of must-see places in Charleston. Part of the College of Charleston, the Halsey regularly features emerging and mid-career artists and is known for displaying daring exhibits.
The artistic risks that the Halsey takes with its gallery make it stand apart from other galleries in Charleston. Exhibits change every few months, and the art museum is free to visit, which means that you can stop by regularly for a new experience each time.
The Charleston Museum
Those wishing to explore the history and culture of the Lowcountry through artwork should visit the Charleston Museum. Founded in 1773, the museum is known as America’s First Museum and showcases an extensive collection of historical crafts, jewelry, decorative art and more.
Check out Lowcountry History Hall, a permanent exhibit in the museum that details the early life of those who first inhabited the Lowcountry, including Native Americans as well as early colonists and African-American slaves.
The Historic Textiles exhibit is another permanent fixture at the museum that will delight aspiring designers. The Charleston Museum’s rich historic textiles and clothing collection is one of the best in the southeastern United States.
Packed with artistic talent, Charleston is a mecca for art festivals. From smaller events featuring local artists to major performing arts festivals, there is always a celebration of art and culture happening in the city.
As you plan your Charleston vacation, consider attending these much-loved art festivals:
Spoleto Festival USA
One of the nation’s largest performing arts festivals, the annual Spoleto Festival USA is a must-attend event in Charleston. Theater, dance, opera, performance art, music—no matter what you’re into, it can all be found at Spoleto.
For 17 days and nights, Charleston’s historic venues are filled with performances by world-renowned artists as well as emerging talent. Now in its 42nd season, Spoleto Festival USA is an unforgettable experience that art enthusiasts can’t miss.
Curious about this year’s festival? Fans of Spoleto will be pleased to know that the 2018 lineup was announced in January.
Mount Pleasant ArtFest
Each year, Downtown Mount Pleasant is filled with stunning performances by some of the region’s most talented artists and performers. Dance, music and visual art studios will be on display for both adults and children to enjoy.
In fact, this event is packed with kid-friendly activities and is fun for the entire family. Did we mention that all activities and performances are free?
MOJA Art Festival
One of the longest running festivals in the city, the MOJA Art Festival is an 11-day celebration of African-American and Caribbean arts and culture. Fun for the entire family, this lively festival brings a burst of color to Charleston’s streets each year.
“Moja” means “one” in Swahili, and the festival embodies the celebration of unity and harmony within the community. Events include dance, theater, music, poetry, storytelling and special programs for the kids.
One piece of advice — come hungry! You’ll want seconds of the savory ethnic food from Charleston’s best food and drink vendors.
North Charleston Arts Fest
Venture to the City of North Charleston in the spring for its annual art festival and experience the diverse array of performances by over 100 national, regional and local artists. Hosted by the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Department, the comprehensive art festival encompasses dance, music, theatre, visual arts, media arts and literature.
There will also be a variety of workshops, exhibitions and activities taking place in nearby libraries, businesses and community centers. Last year, there were an eclectic mix of events including a fiber art lecture and exhibition tour, a children’s puppet show, a block party with live music and vendors and much more!
Notable Art Centers and Venues
From concerts to Broadway shows and music halls, Charleston’s performance arts scene is magnetic. Many of these enchanting performances take place in historic venues, giving them added charm that can only be found in Charleston.
The Gaillard Center
The historic Gaillard Center began in the 1960s as an auditorium and exhibit hall, serving as Charleston’s primary venue for top performances and events. After undergoing extensive renovations, the new Gaillard Center reopened in 2015 as a world-class performance hall complete with ornate ceilings and grand stairwells.
From big-name performances to small-scale galas and educational outreach programs, events at this multifaceted venue space are something that locals can’t help but brag about. Check out the upcoming shows and grab your tickets for a memorable performance!
Redux Contemporary Art Center
Stop by Redux, a thriving contemporary arts center that is popular with locals. Located on King Street in historic downtown Charleston, the nonprofit organization rents out private studios to working artists and features rotating mural exhibitions.
Redux is geared towards supporting local artists in Charleston and building meaningful relationships within the community. However, visitors can also enjoy the visual art exhibits at the art center, as well as the events, concerts and lecture series that they regularly host.
Redux also offers educational classes year-round for all ages. Whether you want to learn screen printing basics or release tension with watercolor tutorials and a glass of wine, Redux has a class for everyone.
Charleston Music Hall
Like your music with a bit of history? The Charleston Music Hall is a 19th-century Gothic Revival-style building that has survived wars, earthquakes and hurricanes.
Beautifully preserved, the Charleston Music Hall is now an intimate venue for the arts and entertainment. With superb acoustics and not a bad seat in the house, shows at the music hall are regularly sold out, so buy your tickets in advance!
The Vendue isn’t your typical hotel. Filled with rotating art exhibits that feature local and international artists, the warehouse-turned-hotel has earned its title as Charleston’s premiere art hotel.
No two rooms at The Vendue are alike, each adorned with its own unique artwork and amenities. The art hotel is also home to Charleston’s only Artist in Residence Program, and both guests and visitors are invited to explore the studio and meet the resident artist.
Of course, The Vendue’s impressive dedication to the arts isn’t the only lure for visitors. The hotel is conveniently located in downtown Charleston, and their rooftop bar provides exceptional views of the city and the waterfront.
Additional Ways to Experience Charleston Art
Charleston’s many art galleries and performing arts venues are a given for those wanting to experience the city’s vibrant art scene. However, you can also find beauty and art in some rather unexpected places as well.
Charleston City Market and Night Market
From Gullah sweetgrass baskets to jewelry and crafts, you’ll find a large selection of unique wares at the Charleston City Market. Established in the 1790s, the history of the market is reason enough to visit.
A popular tourist destination, the City Market features locally made crafts, so you certainly won’t have trouble finding a unique gift to bring home. Don’t miss the Night Market, which runs from April through December, to discover the best upcoming artists in the Lowcountry.
Home, Garden and Art Tours
Although many of Charleston’s historic homes and beautiful gardens are open to the public year-round, only on special occasions do people get the opportunity to see inside historic homes that are privately owned.
Take one of Charleston’s home and garden tours for a rare glimpse into some of the city’s most magnificent historic properties. Showcasing elegant architecture and lush gardens, these tours offer visitors the chance to see beauty from the past collide with present-day charm.
Home and garden tours generally take place a few times in the spring and fall. The Annual Festival of Houses & Gardens occurs in the spring, while the House and Garden Tour organized by the Preservation Society of Charleston offers self-guided tours in the fall.
Well-known for its culinary offerings and rich history, Charleston also has a thriving art scene that shouldn’t be missed. Home to writers, dancers, musicians and artists, you won’t have trouble finding an art experience to pique your interest.
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