Three hours from Greenville lies a small South Carolina town you’ve likely only passed through on your way to Litchfield or Myrtle Beach. But if you like art, or a great excuse for a road trip, put Lake City on your list, especially during its annual ArtFields celebration April 26–May 4. If you need a second opinion, Travel & Leisure just listed London, Stockholm, Monaco . . . and Lake City, South Carolina, as must-see places for May 2019.
The exciting weeklong ArtFields celebration centers around a competition for artists from across the Southeast, each vying for part of more than $140,000 in cash prizes. Lake City businesses and organizations host juried ArtFields entrants in 49 venues across the area, from barbershops to warehouses. Festivalgoers choose annual recipients for the two People’s Choice awards, but a panel of art professionals awards the other prizes. The Grand Prize winner, selected from 2019’s 400 participants, will take a cool $50,000 check back to their studio.
The name ArtFields has an agricultural ring to it, a deliberate tribute to the area’s agricultural past. Once the top strawberry market in the state, Lake City also grew more than its fair share of tobacco and beans. But when regional farming fizzled, the idea that art could grow a new annual crop—tourist dollars—took root, and ArtFields was born. The celebration has been such a hit since its 2013 inception that by 2017 it won a statewide award for realizing tourism potential. Today, Lake City visitors receive a vibrant Southern small-town experience, and are often surprised by the diversity of attractions they discover. Plans for several other festivals are also well underway.
Another facet to the city’s growing success is powerhouse businesswoman Darla Moore, who moved back home to Lake City after a stellar investment career and founded the Moore Farms Botanical Garden. Since returning, she’s steered the transformation of her grandparents’ farm into a bonafide horticultural destination. During ArtFields it holds several workshops, and is a must-stop for the flowers alone. Other festival venues include the 5,000-square-foot TRAX Visual Art Center, as well as the Jones Carter Gallery, which hosts ongoing exhibitions of local, regional, and national artists.
To fully enjoy the ArtFields festival you need to stay for “at least a day,” says interim director Jamison Mady. “But I’d recommend two, especially if you plan to attend any events,” including the Dandelion Gala and The Harlem Gospel Choir. While the city’s boutique shops help fill spare hours and lighten wallets, the dining scene is certainly not lacking in tasty bites—barbecue at Piggybacks, tenderloin shish kebabs at Crossroads on Main, and a double-scoop from Snax Gourmet Ice Cream Shop will keep any art enthusiast well-fueled.
In a recent USA TODAY’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice contest, Lake City took first place for “Best Small Town Cultural Scene in America.” Quite a feat for an old farm town in the middle of the Pee Dee. Our recommendation? Exit the highway and make ArtFields a feature of your next beach-bound excursion.
Lake City’s ArtFields celebration, April 26–May 4, has launched this small South Carolina town into national lights. The event showcases works from 400 artists, and includes workshops at Darla Moore’s family land, Moore Farms Botanical Garden. For more information, visit artfieldssc.org.