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Arts and Culture

The African-American Gullah culture, prevalent since the 1800s, is a revered part of Island history, and residents recognize the need to preserve and treasure this esteemed heritage. Gullah is a rich and colorful culture celebrated through foods, crafts and religious practices. Originally descended from African slaves who worked the Southern plantations, the Gullah people of the Lowcountry and nearby coastal islands of South Carolina and Georgia are the most culturally distinctive African-American population in the United States.

The Gullah culture is kept alive through vivid storytelling in the native dialect of Gullah, a Creole blend of European and African tongues. Through passionate prayers, sermons and tales, the Gullah remember their past and look toward the future preservation of their culture, which is distinguished by the crafts of sweet grass basket sewing, quilt making and fish net weaving.


The Gullah people developed a unique culture based on folktales, superstitions and distinct cuisine, which shaped generations of families living on Hilton Head Island and in the Lowcountry. Visitors to the Island during the month of February can attend the annual Gullah Celebration, a spirited festival that features the arts, crafts, history, music and food of the Gullah people. Other opportunities to experience Gullah culture year-round include the historic site of Mitchelville, one of the first self-governed freedman’s village in the nation, as well as Gullah-N-Gechee Heritage Tours and Gullah Heritage Trail Tours.

The area’s splendid beauty and rich history have inspired a vibrant arts and cultural community that rivals many metropolitan areas. Hilton Head Island and Bluffton have long fostered a diversity of artists and their work.

The multi-million-dollar Arts Center of Coastal Carolina showcases some of the country’s most renowned visual and performing artists in a variety of events throughout the year. The Elizabeth Wallace Theatre holds the distinction of housing South Carolina’s largest professional regional theatre company. Broadway caliber theatre, musicals, pop, jazz and classical concerts, vocalists, dance companies, community festivals, outreach events and gallery exhibitions are among the enriching experiences offered at the center.

Art League

The Art League of Hilton Head has over 500 members and supports two centers: the Walter Greer Gallery in the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina and the Art Academy on Cordillo Parkway. Both are located on Hilton Head Island. The Art League of Hilton Head promotes the visual arts by providing an art academy where art classes are conducted by local artists, hosting annual art shows and supporting an art gallery containing art work of more than 150 local artists.

Bluffton has a strong arts presence with a legacy of creative and cultural appreciation by residents. The Society of Bluffton Artists represents about 175 artists and displays their works at a gallery in the Gallery Row district of Old Town. Dozens of art galleries and unique gift shops fill the hamlet, offering everything from the curious to the exquisite.

Music brings more culture and includes the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and the Hilton Head Choral Society. The sweet sound of harmony and heritage resonate from the Hilton Head Barbershoppers, the Hilton Head Island Shore Notes and the Hallelujah Singers, popular Lowcountry groups who help preserve different musical styles.

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