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Spotlight on Somerset: Showcasing the city of Somerset through art

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Posted at 11:08 AM, Jun 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 18:25:39-04

SOMERSET, Ky. (LEX 18) — All this week we will be spotlighting the growing city of Somerset.

The downtown area has seen an influx of new shops and restaurants over the past decade.

You may not be able to hear the buzz of the cicada in the heart of Fountain Square, but one business co-owner sees a similarity between the growing city and this year's brood-making noise across parts of the Bluegrass State.

"That was the same identity as we really felt. That there’s this stirring underground, this buzzing, ready to come forward and transform in a very magical way," said Daniel Stroud, co-founder and co-owner of Jarfly Brewing Co.

For the people who grew up here, Somerset is in the midst of a similar transformation.

"And I hope that in five years, I hope that nobody says 'where is Somerset?' All Kentuckians and people in the southeastern part of this country will know exactly where we are and what we're about," said Alan Keck, mayor of the city of Somerset.

That growth is evident in the city's downtown area, home to new businesses and art which is in both galleries and on city walls.

"You can come to Somerset and follow our mural trail. You can see all five downtown murals on a two-mile walk. So you're getting to take in the arts while taking a walk enjoying the outdoors," said Julie Harris, a Somerset native who is now the city's communications director.

Mayor Keck, who was elected in 2018, says the outdoor art expresses the identity of his hometown.

"The genesis (of) the murals is we wanted to promote them (artists) and give them a chance to help tell our story. We've had so many positive comments of people coming downtown and saying it feels so vibrant down here, and the reason for that is that it is," said Keck.

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Lacy Hilliard's studio and gallery, Wandering Elm, opened in 2018 and is in the middle of the now-vibrant downtown.

"Really want the people to know that there are spaces like this in this community. And that no matter what level of artistry you're at, you can be a beginner or a high-level artist, and we do have a community here to support you," said Hilliard.

Somerset is a town with Appalachian roots and more than 200 years of stories. There's a historic spring and a large fountain in the heart of downtown.

The water has always flowed in Somerset, but just ten years ago, the beer did not. That changed with a vote to go wet.

Jarfly Brewing opened up a few short years later. The art at the brewery may be craft beer, but Stroud says it's also a haven of creativity.

"Beer was the product that we could offer to be able to afford the experience of having a place for the community to come in and enjoy maybe a different form of artistic creativity than they'd see elsewhere," said Stroud.

Local art decorates the walls of the brewery, which Stroud says is an all-inclusive environment and a gathering place ready to welcome the world.

"The pandemic wrapping up and people suddenly emerge again and get out and shake it up in the tops of the trees, making noise. It's very much a beautiful meeting of identities between the jarfly," said Stroud.

It's summertime, which means the visitors have returned to Lake Cumberland once again. Mayor Keck hopes they take notice of his beloved city, and stick around.

"We celebrate our roots in agriculture. We celebrate the fact that we are the mecca of outdoor recreation. And that we have heritage from eastern Kentucky," said Keck.

Somerset has bluegrass and basketball, and in the next few years, the city will be home to bourbon.

Keck says Horse Soldier Bourbon will be opening a new $100 million distillery in the city, which will include a hotel. Eventually, the goal is for Somerset to have a spot on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.