In the latest installment of the Appalachian Travel Guide we turn to Fahe’s backyard of Berea, KY.  As always, if you’re interested in contributing, leave a comment below or contact Aaron Phelps at aphelps@fahe.org.

How do you make small-town life appealing to a variety of people across different generations?  That was the question on the minds of those interested in bringing more vibrancy and cohesion to downtown Berea, KY.

Berea is famous for two things: historic Berea College and a strong dedication to arts and crafts which has earned the city the title of “Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky.” The Old Town Artisan Village District hosts a variety of attractions including artisans, galleries, and the Berea Arts Council.  People travel from across the country to witness these master artisans at work and to participate in several of the festivals such as the Berea Craft Festival, Spoonbread Festival, and First Fridays.  However, many in town noticed that engagement had fallen off with the younger generations who were chosen to spend their time and money in neighboring cities.  The Berea Arts Council, along with Ali Blair, Berea College Entrepreneurship for the Public Good, and City of Berea Tourism decided that a new avenue had to be explored in order to engage a younger audience and to attract a new demographic to the region:  live music.  So they decided to reach out and apply for a 2017 Levitt AMP grant.

The Levitt AMP Berea Grant Awards is a matching grant program that is designed to bring small to midsize communities together through a series of free music concerts.  For the past three years, they have been holding open voting from the public to see which cities across America would be awarded a $25,000 matching grant to increase community pride, enrich lives through live music, and illustrate the importance of public places.

The Levitt grant has already proven to be impactful in Kentucky.  Middlesboro has received the grant for the entirety of the three years the program has been running.  The nonprofit Discover Downtown Middlesboro reports that hosting the music series has provided entertainment for thousands of people and had a transformative effect on their community by inspiring the repair and reuse of buildings and vacant storefronts and providing a sense of hope that wasn’t there before.

While bringing in a younger crowd is one of the aspirations of the Berea music series, other economic benefits have also been identified.  Increased traffic to Old Town will help to revitalize the local shops and the chance to sell at stalls during concerts will provide increased exposure for the Berea Farmers Market and small vendors.

There are also the social benefits.  “One of our goals [is to] provide accessible/inclusive space for building community thereby improving the quality of the dialogue around polarizing community topics,” said Ali.  “When we meet together with a playful spirit, we are more likely to recognize our humanity during controversy. I want Berea to own the Levitt Amp Berea Music Series and invest in its success knowing it belongs to them.”

The Levitt AMP Berea Music Series will be every Friday night from July to September and will add an extra dimension to Berea’s artistic culture.  We’re looking forward to seeing old and new faces in downtown Berea every Friday night, keeping business local, and bonding over shared experiences in our backyard instead of others’.