As Athens resident Parrish Myers puts it, "Athens is a place you can’t really explain well—you just have to experience it. It’s a rich, artistic area."
Located between the ever-growing Atlanta metropolis and the shores of neighboring South Carolina, Athens is northeast Georgia’s art-friendly city—a dynamic town that, simply put, appreciates art and artists. The city pulls its energy from a large population of creative residents, as well as students at the nearby University of Georgia (UGA). Two things in particular make Athens an ideal spot for traveling artists. First, the community establishments are extremely supportive of their local painters, jewelers and sculptors. "Pretty much every bar and restaurant in town has a rotating arts show," says local artist Renee Hodnett. Hodnett works at The Grit, a small downtown restaurant that draws in creative types with its atmosphere and original artwork adorning every wall. Last Resort and the X-Ray Café are two similar restaurants in close proximity that also feature local artwork. Many of the city’s galleries, bars and hot spots are situated in the small downtown area, making it a walkable environment.
The second quality attracting artists to Athens is the lush scenery. Large Victorian-era homes—typically located in quaint historic districts—add to the city’s beauty and its status as a jewel of the Deep South. With the town’s many gardens, stunning estates and UGA’s lush campus, there’s nary a place in Athens unfit for an artist to grab an easel and find something worth painting. "There’s beauty everywhere," Hodnett says. "The campus has a free arboretum. And then there are the gardens—they’re everywhere."
Marie Huston, a local watercolorist, often paints en plein air at the state botanical garden, located on the UGA campus. "There’s always something in bloom," she says. "You just take your watercolors out and you can wander around the extensive acreage in the gardens and sit anywhere and paint."
If something less low-key sounds appealing, then Athfest is not to be missed. The five-day summer music festival (held each year in June) also has a large accompanying artists’ market that encompasses various media—from ceramics and photography to wood turning and printmaking. Some other art galleries and places of interest in Athens include the Lowery Gallery (nearby in Danielsville), the Clayton Street Gallery and Lyndon House Arts Center (downtown) and, of course, the Georgia Museum of Art (on campus).
In addition to its love for artists, Athens has long been a gathering place for musicians—with residents boasting (unsubstantiated yet very believable) claims that the city has the highest concentration in the country in terms of rock bands per capita. R.E.M. and the B-52’s are two immensely popular bands that got their start in town. Rolling Stone‘s Jenny Eliscu even weighed in, declaring Athens a "consummate rock town" in her 2005 book Schools That Rock: The Rolling Stone College Guide (Wenner).