As a state, Kentucky embodies multiple personalities — a place that's Southern, Midwestern and Appalachian; where wealth and poverty co-exist; well-known for its coal, its race horses and its bourbon; a land of deep caves, green mountains and plenty of blue grass.
All of this makes it an interesting place to live, and, tourism officials hope, a great place to visit. So when the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games start at the Kentucky Horse Park on Sept. 25, representations of those cultures, cuisines and contradictions will be gathered under several large tents.
The Kentucky Experience — 25,000 square feet of pavilions set up in the Horse Park parking lot — will show visitors exactly what's out there and Kentuckians what they might have been missing. It's also one of the activities at the Games that's free with a general admission ticket.
"It's going to pull every corner of this state together," said Mike Cooper, commissioner of tourism and travel for the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. "I think people will be surprised at how much people will enjoy this. And anyone who comes here will learn something they didn't know."
One of the pavilions will showcase all nine of Kentucky's tourism regions, including places like Mammoth Cave and Eastern Kentucky. Fourteen museums have donated items to show off Kentucky's cultural heritage, including work by folk artists Minnie Adkins and Calvin Cooper, one of Rosemary Clooney's costumes from the Rosemary Clooney House Museum in Augusta, and a saddle and saber used by Gen. George S. Patton from the Patton Museum at Fort Knox.
Another pavilion will feature Kentucky products—including its pottery, bourbon and wine. Live performances of the Louisville Symphony, Blessid Union of Souls rock band and the Madison County Dulcimers will be held in the Entertainment Pavilion. All of these will surround a garden courtyard designed by Kentuckian Jon Carloftis.
Nearly every detail will highlight a Kentucky connection, Cooper said. For example, there will be an exhibit of dry stone wall building, along with real white fencing from Calumet Farm and an exhibit explaining the history of that famed Thoroughbred farm. There will be a raffle for a Kentucky-made Corvette, and a Maker's Mark dipping station, so people can dip their own bourbon bottles in the trademark red wax.
(All the alcohol tastings must be purchased because the Kentucky General Assembly turned down a proposed law allowing free tastings at the Games.)
Cooper said the Kentucky Experience is designed for visitors and Kentucky residents. But it's also part of the state's larger goal with the World Games, making it an economic development opportunity to bring people back here with their pocketbooks, or even to establish businesses here.
"Sometimes, Kentucky is a hard sell" because of out-of-state stereotypes, Cooper said. "But once people come here they're blown away. We're hoping to make them come back."
Kentucky contradictions already have collided and created controversy: The live performance pavilion is now sponsored by Alliance Coal at a cost of $275,000. Four groups dropped out after they found out they would be playing under a "Clean Coal" banner. Tourism officials said they respected the performers' decisions but would not change the pavilion.
"This is our opportunity to showcase Kentucky," said Marcheta Sparrow, Kentucky's secretary of tourism, arts and heritage. "It will highlight our cultural heritage."
For more information, go to Thekentuckyexperience.com.