Clay County Arts and Culture
A stroll through downtown Manchester provides just a glimpse into the creativity of Clay County residents and their pride in local history. Manchester and Clay County are working toward revitalization with arts and culture playing a key role.
Public murals depict historic sites (including the old Webb Hotel and Dillion Asher Cabin) and an attractive pavilion displays information about the county’s history. A charming and colorful Main Street shop, the Makery, features the work of local artists and crafters. The recently restored Rogers of Manchester jewelry store also sells pottery, books by local authors and other Kentucky Crafted items. Pat’s Snack Bar features live music every Friday and Saturday night, not to mention a fine burger.
Youth and adults alike can participate in a variety of arts and cultural workshops and events hosted by the Clay County Cooperative Extension Office such as painting classes and an annual performing arts show. Traditional arts and crafts such as woodworking, weaving, basket-making, toy making and corn shuck flower making can also be found at the Red Bird Mission Crafts store in Beverly, which has been marketing the work of regional artisans since the early 1960’s to help provide income to families and stimulate the economy.
Other cultural points of interest include the Red Bird petroglyphs (a unique and mysterious archaeological item featuring inscriptions from Cherokee and other world languages), the Warrior’s Path Native American Trail, and a self-guided tour of swinging bridges. The county has dozens of these historic pedestrian bridges over its creeks and rivers, and residents have developed a driving tour/trail to showcase eight of the bridges that are still safe for passage. They are working to restore these architectural and historical gems as a tourist attraction and point of community pride. In 2015, the Kentucky legislature officially declared Clay County “Land of the Swinging Bridges.”
Click here to read more about this effort.
Over the course of this project, new paint and other improvements transformed several downtown storefronts. New businesses are open including a music store, a dance studio, a custom millinery shop and training studio, and a bakery that also sells canned goods and hand-painted chairs. Planning and building renovation are also underway for a youth hang-out and event space.
A volunteer group called “Stay in Clay” is working diligently to increase civic engagement and support cultural and economic development. While they are not an “arts organization,” per se, members rely on the arts as one means of expressing community voices and for improving the quality of life in the area. Arts projects they support include public murals in Manchester, an annual homecoming and heritage festival at the Goose Creek Salt Works Pioneer Village and community theater productions starring a local theater group called Monkey Dumplins’ and the Clay County High School Tiger Troupe.
Community theater is relatively new to Clay County but has had a tremendous impact in the past several years. Participants of all ages and backgrounds came together to write, direct and perform unique local stories, choosing to put a strong emphasis on authentic community engagement over slick production value. From sharing personal stories of family Christmas traditions to recounting local history, these plays have been a popular and entertaining way to build pride in Clay County and confidence among cast members that they can work together to face challenges, develop new skills and accomplish positive outcomes for their community.
Click here to listen to place-based poetry and view photography by eighth graders at Clay County Middle School. Visiting artist Judy Sizemore worked with students to create their poems, many modeled after ͞”Where I’m From,” a well-known poem by Kentucky poet George Ella Lyon.