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Spotlight on the Arts | Make Your Own Fun

Art workshops are a great way to create summer memories
An artist instructs visitors at MAKE, a Paducah studio where customers can make their own works of art.

By Chris Cathers

With the summer travel season rapidly approaching, it’s the ideal time to think about how to make the arts part of your travel plans.

As Kentucky Travel Industry Association CEO Hank Phillips noted in a Lane Report interview last month, travelers have increasingly fallen out of love with “stop and stare” tourism. Instead, they prefer to immerse themselves in interactive experiences that by their very definition include activity and participation.

For an example of how to make that easy, we turn to our friends in Berea, one of Kentucky’s notable communities for celebrating art and culture.   

In July, Berea Tourism will present its annual Festival of Learnshops, a month of arts and skill workshops taught by master craftsmen from all over Kentucky. The festival invites visitors and local residents to learn more about the arts and crafts in Berea while joining the ranks of its vibrant arts community themselves. Learnshops cover a wide range of topics and skills, from traditional crafts such as jewelry making, painting, blacksmithing and culinary arts to modern and unique experiences such as podcasting, blogging, outdoor survival skills and storytelling.

“We have loved seeing how this program has grown to teach art and art appreciation to all of our participants,” said Berea Tourism Director Kerri Hensley. “While we often focus on Berea being ‘Where Art’s Alive,’ we really want to help make art alive everywhere in our country, and the Festival of Learnshops is a great way for us to contribute to that goal.”

Participants have come from 32 states and two countries for these Learnshops and stay in local hotels, dine at local restaurants, and shop at Berea’s many arts and crafts galleries and shops. Many participants return year after year to further enhance their skills and reconnect with the community of artists and enthusiastic learners.

Kate Sprengnether, who is a staff member at the University of Kentucky Art Museum and a parent of one teen and one preteen, has experienced the Learnshops with her children. They attended a glassblowing lesson, where they learned how glass was made and had the opportunity to make their own glass art.

“At their ages, it is difficult to find activities that they both enjoy and that we want to do as a family,” Sprengnether said. “Looking at things, like in an art gallery or history center, or passively learning is not enough. We are looking for opportunities to participate and engage in an activity. Those types of activities bring us closer as a family and create lasting memories.

Kentucky Tourism’s suggestion for potential cultural heritage tourism visitors is to broaden their ideas about culture, heritage and the arts.

“It’s still about painting and sculpting, writing, creating pottery and music, but it’s also much more,” said Kentucky Tourism Commissioner Kristen Branscum. “It’s watching the world’s best bourbons being crafted, learning about how cars are designed and built, discovering new ways to experience food culture while honoring the unique history of regional foodways, and it’s the experience of making your own pottery/painting/music as well as studying the work of others and taking the memories made back home.”

With that in mind, here are some suggestions Branscum has for visitors interested in planning a cultural heritage tourism trip:

Think about what you like, what you’re interested in learning more about, and what you enjoy. Then, check the Kentucky Tourism website for listings of sites, trails, articles and videos, trip ideas and itineraries related to your interests.

Check out information on niche-specific tours that offer experiences focused on your interests. Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky all offer various sightseeing and experiential tour opportunities, but don’t overlook small communities, where there are many opportunities to see artisans at work and enjoy authentic experiences.

Chris Cathers is interim executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council.