| Appalachian Gallery Reopens
The sounds of the Berea Bluegrass Ensemble mixed with the smell of soup beans and cornbread make the Berea Appalachian Center feel like home. After a six month renovation, the new center is now a place where Berea students and residents can experience the history and the culture of Appalachia. The Appalachian Center, founded in the summer of 1970, has a mission to educate the students about the region, to link the college with other Appalachian organizations, and to serve as a source for Appalachian research. Now with a new look, state-of-the-art equipment and a stocked Appalachian library the center can do just that.
President Larry Shinn speaks proudly of the center's improvements, "We aren’t just celebrating the renovation of this space, we’re celebrating the renovation of this space, and its reopening, with a greater since of purpose with respect to Berea College’s mission." Judging from the many exhibits set to both entertain and educate, the Appalachian Center has clearly taken a step forward in honoring its mission to educate Appalachian students.
Walking through the center one is given the opportunity to bask in the glory that is Appalachia. Greeted at the door by a loom that was once an Appalachian tool used for weaving fibers, it is clear that the center offers an opportunity to experience every aspect of Appalachian life. The women in Appalachia exhibit, shows the struggles of Appalachian women and their power to overcome hardship, while the photography exhibit from the "Voices in Black Appalachia" project provoke thought about what it means to be black in Appalachia. One exhibit even poses the question "what is hillbilly to you….a slur or a nickname?" Students are also educated about the history of Appalachia in digital stories recorded and narrated by other Berea students. The focus of the center isn’t entirely historical, however. A television displays images and questions about modern day life in Appalachia, including a map of Appalachia and a segment about mountain top removal.
The accessibility of the new space and programs give director Dr. Chad Berry a positive outlook on the center's ability to reach those that it didn’t before. He also has great confidence in its ability to teach students to be proud of their heritage. "A lot of students come here having been taught either explicitly or implicitly that the sooner they lose their 'Appalachianess' the better, and then they come to Berea and they see that regional study and exploration is legitimate academic inquiry, I think its powerful for those students from the region."
With educational exhibits and a powerful mission, it is no wonder that people flocked to the grand re-opening of the Appalachian Center Gallery and will continue to flock there in search of education and the meaning of Appalachia.