By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
As of noon Friday, nearly 500 people had already walked through the doors of the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea. The Center is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this weekend with special exhibits, artist demonstrations and live music.
It was a sweltering hot July day, but visitors were greeted with a cool blast of air conditioning, “award-winning bathrooms,” an ample selection of traditional, deli and grilled foods and hand-crafted artwork by more than 700 Kentucky artisans.
The Kentucky Artisan Center, located just off I-75 at Berea Exit 77, has become more than a tourist destination, but a travel center where road-weary drivers can stretch their legs on the nearby nature trail and enjoy all the amenities “with the added benefit of having a nice place to shop,” said Gwen Heffner, information specialist with the center.
“People who never stop in Berea now do,” Heffner said. “We’re really selling Berea and the whole state.”
As visitors walk in the doors, a kiosk of brochures containing information about the downtown Berea artist district is available on the left. A desk set aside specifically for Berea tourism is arranged nearby.
To the right of the entrance, the special exhibit “The Founding of the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea” explains how the center came about. It features a photo of a ravaged Old Town Berea after a tornado swept through on April 20, 1996. The damage prompted the development of the center.
“Artisans in this city designated as ‘Kentucky’s Folk Arts & Crafts Capital’ worried that Berea’s strong arts tradition and its attraction as a tourist destination might be undermined by the losses sustained,” read a panel of the exhibit.
Collaboration between local governments, organizations, artists, Berea College and Eastern Kentucky University launched the project, which would take seven years to complete.
On July 30, 2003, thousands showed up for its opening as a ribbon woven by Churchill Weavers was cut by then Governor Paul Patton, legislators and authority board members.
The exhibit said the Center has “served as a gateway to Berea and the rest of Kentucky...”
“We send people out to the Artisan Center and they send people here as well,” said Kerri Lee Hensley, assistant director of Berea tourism.
“The Center gets people off the interstate that may not know about Berea,” she said. “This gives travelers a chance to see our beautiful town and what we have to offer.”
Heffner said several years ago, when the traveler’s center between Berea and Lexington was shut down, foot-traffic at the Artisan Center increased dramatically.
The center’s staff are cross-trained to discuss the art showcased in the facility, but to also be able to guide travelers to interesting Kentucky attractions.
As of May 2012, the center greeted its 2 millionth visitor and enjoys an average of 225,000 visitors a year, Heffner said.
The Kentucky Artisan Center is open daily, year-round, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. For details, visit www.kentuckyartisancenter.ky.gov or call 985-5448
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.