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People and Palettes Define Art Communities

It’s the age-old question: Which came first, the artists or the art community?

The answer is pretty much always the artists. It may start with one person who has a vision, or it may be part of the fiber of a place going back centuries.

No matter how it begins, the love of art often swells into the founding of an art colony, the creation of annual arts festivals, the opening of galleries across a city and the investment in public art collections. Visitors will be immersed in art appreciation and education, and can immerse themselves in hands-on art classes, in these art communities.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

In May, the artsy Arkansas town of Eureka Springs marked a big occasion: the 30th annual May Festival of the Arts. Every May for the past three decades, the city showcases its thriving arts community fueled by the 350 artists living and working in town.

The monthlong festival is packed with art exhibits and demonstrations, live performances and music in the park. It kicks off with the ArtRageous Parade and peaks with the annual White Street Studio Walk, a street party thrown by the artists themselves that marked its 27th year this past May. Artists take over White Street, where many of them live, and open their private homes and studios to visitors to view their latest works. Another 40 guest artists from the Eureka Springs area spread across yards, set up on driveways and line sidewalks to showcase their weaving, watercolors, pottery, jewelry, stained glass and more. Visitors can meet and chat with artists and enjoy wine and snacks along the way.

Eureka Springs School of the Arts has seven studios and contracts with instructors to teach classes that range from one to five days and cover a wide variety of media. The school also offers a “build your own workshop” option for groups that want to customize their experience, said executive director Kelly McDonough. With enough advance arrangement, the school will find an instructor to teach workshops in jewelry-making, painting, woodworking — basically any medium the group wants to explore.

During its season, which runs March through October, the school also offers weekly studio strolls, when guests can explore the campus and watch demonstrations from that week’s instructors.

Galleries stay open late during the Second Saturday Gallery Stroll every month from April through November, but art can be found everywhere in town. “The Up Project” mural is a twisting rainbow tree and waterfall cascading down a long flight of concrete stairs, and benches painted by local artists dot Basin Springs Park.

Berea, Kentucky

Forty miles south of Lexington, Kentucky, the city of Berea is known for two things: the tuition-free Berea College and the town’s thriving arts and crafts community.

The Old Town Artisan Village is a one-block district that’s home to about 20 working artists’ studios and shops. It’s there the Berea tourism office can arrange for hands-on art classes for groups, including more than one class at a time.

“What makes Berea unique is, not everybody in the group has to do the same class; I can run six to eight classes at the same time,” said group tour coordinator Connie Mondine.

Groups can split up into a variety of classes. Some of the most popular include glassblowing, basket weaving, jewelry-making and building a barn-wood birdhouse. Each class lasts between two and three hours, and if one class finishes before the others, people can explore other Artisan Village shops.

Gallery 123, also in Artisan Village, is open daily and is home to the Art Accelerator Program, an initiative of Berea Tourism. Emerging artists are selected for 16-month fellowships that provide them with studio and gallery space, as well as a stipend, all while helping artists learn how to run their own businesses.

Berea Tourism also offers step-on guides. The basic tour includes an overview of Berea’s history and stops at two of the city’s art districts — College Square and Old Town — so travelers can explore and shop on their own. Step-on guided tours can be customized to a group’s interests; for more arts, “we can go to the college art gallery and arrange for special demonstrations,” Mondine said.

The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea is a visitor center on Interstate 75 that features rotating special exhibits and a shop that represents over 700 Kentucky craft artists. On Saturdays, the center always runs artist demonstrations, and groups can eat at the on-site cafe.