Aiken, South Carolina

August 1, 2012, Department, by Danielle Taylor

The parks, recreation, and tourism department in this southern gem of a town provides its citizens with world-class performing arts as well as more traditional activities.Municipality: City of Aiken, South Carolina

Population: 29,524 (21 square miles)
Year Agency Founded: 1948
Annual Operating Budget: $4.3 million
Agency Head: Glenn Parker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism

- 348 acres of parkland, 176 parkways, 12 parks including one dog park and one skate park, one nature reserve, one public garden, two museums, one farmers’ market, one athletic center, one festival center, one reception center, and one center for the performing arts.
- Programs: Juilliard in Aiken Festival, extensive athletic programs for all ages and skill levels, after-school programs, visual arts and crafts classes, senior game and hobby clubs, dog training workshops, sports leagues, daily events.
- Awards: 2011 Agency of the Year in South Carolina, National Dorothy Mullen Arts and Humanities Award.

In 2009, a unique partnership emerged between the historic southern city of Aiken, South Carolina, and one of the world’s most prestigious conservatories for the performing arts. Aiken, long revered as a “winter colony” for sun-seeking northerners, attracted the attention of New York’s legendary Juilliard School, and today, the collaboration manifests in a weeklong program of performances and outreach events to local schools.

The City of Aiken’s Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department (PRT) works closely with the Juilliard in Aiken program, providing logistical support as well as marketing and other assistance. Working together, the partnership pulls off a variety of performances in PRT-managed facilities, featuring some of the world’s most accomplished young talent in music, drama, and dance. In the four years since the program’s inception, more than 12,000 local schoolchildren have participated in outreach programs alongside Juilliard performers.

Throughout the rest of the year, Aiken’s PRT department keeps the arts alive by collaborating with the Aiken Community Playhouse and the Aiken Performing Arts Group. Using local, national, and international talent, these groups bring more than 20 performances each year to the city’s URS Center for the Performing Arts.

Beyond establishing a home for performers worldwide, the PRT department keeps Aiken’s citizens busy with multiple youth and adult sports leagues, recreational and instructional classes, senior recreation programs, and events every month of the year.