Art in the Bluegrass: Festival of Learnshops

Jen Roytz


Have you ever wanted to learn to make your own jewelry or create a blown glass vase? How about play the guitar or paint? If you’ve ever wanted to get a bit more in touch with your creative side and try your hand at any number of artistic pursuits, you’re not going to want to miss this year’s Berea Festival of Learnshops.

With its wide array of studios, unique retail shops and more, Berea has long been a draw for artists and art-lovers from across the region. In 2011 an idea was brought to fruition to create an event in which people could not only watch others create beautiful works of art, but take an active role in creating it themselves.

“Berea has always been well-known for our arts and crafts and the many unique shopping experiences, but we were looking for ways to allow folks to not only watch things, but have hands-on experiences with it,” said Nancy Conley, Program Manager for Berea Tourism “Our very first Festival of Learnshops was a 9-day event, but it was so popular we soon expanded it to our 17-day format.”

This year’s Festival of Learnshops will feature both local and out-of-state artists teaching everything from glass blowing, woodworking, watercolor painting and sculpture to media arts, horticulture, sustainable living, Appalachian crafts, storytelling, poetry, theatre, music and more. Classes vary in length from a few hours to several days and most classes are eligible to count toward as continuing education credit for educators.

“We try to keep the class sizes small, generally anywhere from 3 to 20 people, with the exception of our Dulcimer Weekend, which teaches people how to play or advance their skills on this traditional Appalachian instrument. That is a two-day learnshop that will have 20-35 participants,” said Conley. “People can sign up for the learnshops until the time the class starts, space permitting. While some of them do sell out, we try to offer the most popular learnshops multiple times.”

When the event was in its infancy, they invited local artists and also put out a request for teaching artists through the Kentucky Arts Council. Today, the event has become so popular that they put out a call for proposals each November and receive quite an impressive array of responses from around Kentucky and beyond.

“Word of mouth has spread through the art community about this cool concept in Berea,” said Conley.

“We check references and teaching history to ensure participants receive quality experiences. Every now and then we get requests from the public for a certain medium or topic, so occasionally we’ll seek out certain instructors to meet those requests.”

This year’s Festival of Learnshops runs from July 13th through 29th and registration is now open. A full list of this year’s offerings and schedule can be found at •