Rural counties looking to boost cultural tourism need only to look to Berea.
The city, anchored in Berea College's strong arts and crafts programs, has been enticing visitors to experience its unique blend of idyllic scenery and craft-centered artistry for more than three decades.
This weekend, the tradition will be in full swing at the 33rd annual Berea Craft Festival at Indian Fort Theater, a three-day juried festival featuring craft arts, live demonstrations, interactive art-making for adults and kids, live acoustic music, dancing, and, of course, food.
A highlight for many visitors are live art-making demonstrations, some of which depend on audience participation. This year, for instance, the Little Loomhouse of Louisville will be leading weaving demonstrations for children and adults that include spinning, harness-loom weaving, finger weaving, dreamcatchers and friendship bracelets.
Stephanie Brown, education coordinator for the Little Loomhouse, says that live weaving demonstrations are always a hit with the crowd because it's becoming more and more rare to see the art demonstrated live.
"Most weavers have a private studio and looms take so long to set up that the public usually doesn't get to see that process," Brown says. "To see a working loom is just a fascinating thing because we wear cloth all the time, but to actually get to sit down and watch the process unfold before you and be part of that creation is very fundamental."
Other demonstrations will include pottery, woodworking, and natural methods of dyeing fiber. A children's area will offer art-making activities that introduce young audiences to the many varieties of craft art.
Festival organizers say it is not just the art but the location that attracts visitors. The festival is in a heavily wooded area that many people recognize as the starting point for a hike to the Pinnacle, a popular walking trail that leads to a sweeping view of the landscape.
"The initial feeling is set by the amazing forest that houses the artists and entertainers. The beauty of the setting is the perfect companion to the amazing works that artists bring into the grounds," says festival coordinator Melissa Gross.
Gross has worked with the festival in different capacities for more than 20 years. She says that the festival may be an established tradition, but organizers try to keep it fresh every year.
"We always try to reach out to new artists and include a strong percentage of first-time participants," Gross says. "We have about 120 artists from more than 15 states and 20 of those artists are new to the festival."
The Little Loomhouse is one of the art groups new to the festival this year. Brown says they are thrilled to be included.
"We're part of the weaving history of Kentucky, and Berea is such a rich weaving center," Brown says. "It's exciting to be associated with the Berea craft area. This is a relationship that's been waiting to happen."
"I'm not an artist myself, but I love creating this space where citizens can explore alongside the artists," Gross says. "There is something for everyone to enjoy."