The Daily Gamecock

Deep dive into Columbia, South Carolina: Home to vibrant, creative community

<p>A woman walking with a bouquet of tulips down Main Street through Soda City Market. Soda City is a marketplace where around 150 vendors and artists create a diverse and lively experience for the thousands who attend.</p>

A woman walking with a bouquet of tulips down Main Street through Soda City Market. Soda City is a marketplace where around 150 vendors and artists create a diverse and lively experience for the thousands who attend.

Despite being best-known for its university, Columbia expands beyond campus grounds and into a small metropolitan hub filled with culture, art, entertainment and natural beauty.

Soda City Market is a "microcosm of Columbia," operations director Erin Curtis said. It represents the city’s identities and populations along a singular street.

Up to 150 vendors gather every Saturday morning to bring to life a traditional European-inspired street market. The producer-only market brings in a mix of 3,000 to 5,000 people who have “embraced this market in a way that they sort of provide an extra sort of color and flavor that happens every week, and they make it their space as a community,” Curtis said.

Curtis said the market is one of the most inclusive spaces in the city at any given time. The market's “Brain. Body. Belly.” tag primarily encompasses different members and aspects of Columbia’s creative community and industrial, high-tech and business communities.

Vendor displays include jewelry, homemade olive oil, paintings, fresh produce and food representing 33 nationalities, among other things.

“What you see on the street — on a Saturday on the street — is exactly what Columbia is on the metropolitan scale. You see that diversity there on a Saturday; it exists Sunday through Friday elsewhere,” Curtis said.

Breweries are much like the market, according to Curtis. They are cultural drivers and “centers of community where you're creating points of collision between people who live here, and maybe ideas are exchanged, maybe things are done.”

An array of breweries in the city includes River Rat Brewery, Steele Hands Brewery, Savage Craft Ale Works and Columbia Craft Brewing Company. Columbia Craft runs on the values of “quality, sustainability, innovation and hospitality,” and its commitment to the art of craft brewing has earned it several awards, according to its website.

Columbia’s interconnectivity allows residents to easily get from one brewery to another and back to the city’s center along what Curtis calls a hidden gem: the Saluda River.

The Saluda Shoals Park offers a variety of ways to engage with nature within the urban boundaries of the city, including recreation and environmentally-based educational experiences.

Situated on a two-and-a-half-mile riverfront, the 480-acre park strives to meet the needs of the Columbia community through its unique opportunities catering to different interests, according to park director Mark Baker.

“It really gives you an opportunity to disconnect,” Baker said. “Sometimes that’s really important, to be able to disconnect and just clear your mind and just be at one with your thoughts.”

The park offers boat, tube and kayak rentals for floating down the Saluda. The greenway along the river is comprised of two and a half miles of paved trail, making a leisurely walking space in part of the park’s 10 and a half miles of trails.

Tennis courts, 25 acres of field space, picnic shelter rentals and an inclusive playground are also on the grounds of the park. Guests can enjoy one of Columbia’s natural resources in a fun and sustainable way for only a $5 parking fee.

Plenty of opportunities for cultural engagement and art are available throughout the city, from the Columbia Museum of Art to public art in the form of murals and sculptures.

Catering to Columbia’s art community, Trustus Theatre contributes to what administrative assistant of production Abigail McNeely calls a “bustling theater scene.” It has become a “cornerstone for the arts here in the Congaree Vista,” she said.

Founded in 1985, the theater will kick off its 37th season with a reimagined production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” a musical depicting the ups-and-downs of love in the modern age.

The theater puts on a variety of shows throughout its season, from classics to local, original pieces. Trustus works to push boundaries and brings typically Pulitzer Prize-winning productions to the Southeast for the first time, McNeely said.

“We love to challenge our audiences. We love to speak to the modern times and modern challenges that our community goes through, that our nation is going through, that the world is going through, and we do that through theater,” McNeely said.

Columbia's diversity of fun activities makes the Gamecock's home a place for cultural, natural and artistic engagement for students and visitors alike.


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