Saturday, April 11, 2015

Memories of Berea

It seems like months ago that we were in Berea,Kentucky enjoying the sunshine and wandering through  this sweet little college town.  It's only been weeks, but since we left, we have mostly been holed up in Ruby due to serious lightening and thunderstorms throughout Kentucky and Ohio. But before we ran into the weather problems we spent a wonderful day in Berea,Kentucky.

Berea is the home of Berea College, the first college in the Southern States to be racially integrated and co-educational.  It was founded by abolitionists and radical reformers. That spirit of respect for each other and that atmosphere of acceptance still lives on . The school is a Liberal Arts college and is free to those who qualify and agree to payback in some way by working on campus.

We were told by the guide at the Visitor Center to make sure we stopped at the Emerging Artists Building and talk to the students.  That is the best advice I can give you if you journey to Berea. You will get an incredible view of students/artists who care about their work and their environment.  We left feeling so good about the fact that our country was going to be in the hands of these people.

We met Jonathan Clark and James Bonta ( an outstanding baritone singer), both outstanding artists and both stewards of the earth. It felt actually reassuring to know these people were not "going quietly into the good night" while others tried to continue to destroy Kentucky's landscape with fracking and mining.

One of Jonathan's mixed media works-Oven Park,Kentucky,You can find more by clicking here

Jonathan is one of five Berea artists selected for the Emerging artist program-what a great idea this is-to keep artists in the community .  Here's a little description of the program :

Gallery 1-2-3, the flagship program for the Arts Accelerator Program, an initiative of the Berea Tourism Commission, opened its doors on Friday, October 3rd, after three months of active preparation and several years of development. “It’s been a lot of hard work getting to this point,” said Printmaker and 2014 Berea Alumnus Grace Wintermeyer, “We’re all exhausted, but really glad to be finally opening.”  The Gallery is located at 123 North Broadway in the Artist’s Village of Old Town Berea.
The Project is an extension of a burgeoning effort to increase Berea’s standing as a center for the Arts in Central Kentucky. “It’s a smart program for a number of reasons,” said Belle Jackson, the Executive Director of the Berea Tourism Commission. “It is consistent with the emphasis on art and support of small retailers we try to cultivate in Berea.”
Jackson said she has been trying to actively recruit young artists to the area since heading up the Tourism Commission, but had only recently considered Berea College as a recruiting option. “We suddenly realized that just half a mile from the Artists Village in Old Town, there were all these young Artists graduating from Berea and we weren’t reaching out to them. We did not have any reason not to, it just wasn’t happening.”  In the spring of 2014, it did finally happen.
Through contacts at the school such as Ray Gonzalez in the Ceramics Department, Jackson and the Tourism Commission began soliciting applicants. “We narrowed it down to ten really strong applications,” said Jackson. Of those ten, five were selected:  Grace Wintermeyer a printmaker, Silvia Calderon and Samantha Lyons, ceramicists, Tricia Taylor a Sculptor, and painter Jonathan Clark.
“This is a great opportunity to transition between the undergraduate and graduate level,” said Calderon. “It will help us build a body of work, explore and experiment with some freedom.  It is also good to see other artists working, we definitely feed off of each other.”
Beyond creative development, the Accelerator program and its gallery offers some of the harder, practical skills involved in an artist’s career. “The plan,” said Wintermeyer, “Is that when we are done with the program and are ready to start working in our own space in Berea, we will know how to set up a gallery, and have some idea of what our price points and production costs should be.”
Along with a chance to develop and work in their own gallery, the five artists are being offered classes with Danny Isaacs at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) which will provide the business skills needed to engage in personal artistic enterprises.
Beyond a venue for personal artistic development, Jackson hopes that the Gallery and the program at large will be an economic boon for the community. Having a vibrant and productive support system for young artists, she believes, will be a draw for tourists, encourage young professionals to stay in Berea and be an attraction for investment companies and employers looking to settle in the area. She believes it also sustains a vital connection between the College and Greater Berea community.
The program has not been without its detractors. Both the investment return after startup costs and the economic benefit of developing an infrastructure for artists were called into question. Jackson and the artists know that they are under close scrutiny. “Their success is our success,” she said “There is not a lot of room for failure here. But,” she adds, “Whatever happens, they will come out of this with the experience of designing a studio, producing work, and learning how to sell it.”
“The most challenging thing”, said printmaker Wintermeyer, “was getting it open, starting from zero, we didn’t even have running water. But the only place you can go from zero is up.”

Wouldn't it be great if every community had such foresight ? After talking with Jonathan and James for a bit we wandered around the campus and town. You can find arts and crafts near the Visitor's Center and if you wander over to the campus you will find more student work. But please, make sure you stop at Gallery 1-2-3, Emerging Artists and talk to the artists.

Happy Trails and  Safe Travels to my friends and fellow artists.....