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Village of the Arts opens new Welcome Center

BRADENTON — The Village of the Arts will unveil its new Welcome Center on Friday, offering a central hub for visitors to get information on galleries, and more importantly, how to find them within the 42-acre artist sprawl.

In its decade-long existence, the Village has grown to 40 galleries and eateries — all operating on different schedules – making it difficult for visitors to shop around and experience what the Village has to offer. And since the Village is nestled in the middle of a Bradenton neighborhood, locating galleries can be an ordeal if one doesn’t know the area.

The new welcome center, located in the former Arts Council of Manatee County building — now known as the Manatee County Cultural Alliance — will alleviate such problems.

“It’s been the one thing that will really pull the community together,” said Village president Kevin Webb. The center will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays by volunteers who work and live in the Village. Volunteers will offer maps, answer questions about the arts colony and provide gallery schedules. The center will also hold its own gallery displaying work from community artists.

The new center has made Village businesses owners such as Preston and Carrie Whaley beyond happy as it will help visitors find them with ease. The Whaleys have run Inner Visions and a yoga studio in the Village for two years and would occasionally see Village shoppers drive around somewhat perplexed on trying to figure out what’s open or how to get to a gallery.

“It’s helpful to have a place that’s easy to find,” Preston Whaley said.

The welcome center sits on a threshold to the Village and isn’t hard to miss. But if visitors still get lost, Gaetano Cannata, of Ortygia Ristorante, an eatery in the Village, won’t mind helping them find their way.

He’s used to giving out directions to lost shoppers, though he likes the idea of the welcome center, which could possibly bring more foot traffic his way.

“I don’t see where it can hurt,” Cannata said. “It can only help.”

Webb said he is thankful for the volunteer effort to staff the center, as the Village has been trying to get a center up and running for the past two years. He said doing so has been tough as everyone has been busy running their businesses and trying to stay afloat during a tough economy.

“We wanted to build our organization and the story behind this has been more cooperation,” Webb said.

The center is the Village’s third component to building a stronger community and business. Webb has deemed the first two efforts — a Village Magazine and its Web site — a great success.

The Village’s next step is working closely with Realize Bradenton, which is helping area art and cultural venues work together to better market themselves to residents and tourists.

“Realize Bradenton is really going to a great asset,” Webb said.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

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