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Photo of potter Steve Barney. Ellis Anderson photo credit

Art lessons are drawing tourists to stay and learn in Bay St. Louis

By LISA MONTI

Bay St. Louis, a popular beachfront city that has earned spots on many a Top 10 list for its amenities and casual lifestyle, is known in large part for its robust arts community. Every month, the Second Saturday Art Walk through the Old Town showcases art galleries, musicians, artisans and others who contribute to the creative economy. Crowds take to the streets enjoying the after-hours camaraderie, shopping, eating and drinking at the many stores, restaurants and bars.

But the arts amenities are exerting a stronger pull to a new kind of traveler: those who want to come to an inviting place to learn how to paint or become better at throwing clay. And Bay St. Louis artists are welcoming the new trend.

Steve Barney, director of the new Bay St. Louis Creative Arts Center is teaming up with Kevin Jordan, whose vacation rentals operate as Gulf View Properties, are offering all-inclusive two-and four-week Artisan Retreat Packages starting next January. The package includes airport transportation and accommodations in Jordan’s nearby vacation homes.  Local transportation options include a shared golf cart and fleet of beach cruiser bikes.  Weekend excursions into New Orleans and other coastal destinations are planned.

A typical day will include morning yoga followed by studio instruction, a group meal and open studio times. The Bay Artists in Residence can take pottery and metalworking classes and learn stained glass and silkscreening if they chose.

“There is a large demographic of semi-retired professionals in colder climates who are avid artists and are looking for opportunities to combine studio time with a mid-winter coastal retreat,” said Barney, himself a potter.

The newly opened Creative Arts Center houses a pottery studio, kilns and hand building equipment plus a yoga/dance studio, a metalworking shop and other creative spaces inside the 7,500-square-foot building.

Barney will also customize packages for visiting artists who don’t need accommodations.

The first Artisan Retreat Package is scheduled for January 13- February 17, 2018.

“Interest in our Artisan Retreat Programs has been strong and we expect this program to grow slowly over time as word gets out,” Barney said.

Regan Carney, a well known potter who produces functional fine art in clay in her studio inside the Bay Artists’ Coop, is already in the “art-cationing” business. Two women from Austin, Texas, have come to work with Carney on several trips.

The two aspiring potters rented a small bungalow for two weeks last year and took an intense workshop under Carney. They wrote to their teacher, that the experience proved to be the “stepping stone we needed to catapult us to the next stage of our ceramic endeavors.”

In their feedback, they said, “The town of Bay St Louis, along with the incredibly gratifying pottery workshop has been one of the most delightful “adventure/learning” vacations either of us has ever taken. The joy of working with Regan has us looking forward to returning each year for more fun filled ventures in clay.”

Noting the trend of courting art tourists, Ellis Anderson, publisher of The Bay St. Louis Shoofly online magazine devoted to Bay living, includes a listing of art teachers and classes in the Local Info section.

“We want to showcase our local artists and help them take advantage of this new international trend.  For instance, Air BnB is now promoting ‘experiences,’ where travelers book lessons along with lodgings. Bay St. Louis is positioned to be a top destination for that,” Anderson said.

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