Our People

Appalshop Family Portrait, 1978Appalshop Family Photo ca. 1975

Appalshop Staff


Patsy Adams is Appalshop’s Financial Administrator. Born and raised in Letcher County, KY, she joined Appalshop’s Marketing & Sales division in the late 1980s. She later served as Receptionist for Appalshop and was in charge of scheduling building events, conducting tours and a variety of other activities. She became Bookkeeper for the organization in 2004. Her previous experience includes helping to operate a day care center and bookkeeping for a coal trucking firm.


Elizabeth Barret’s work is shaped by the history, culture, and social issues of Appalachia. Her films/videos are produced with the artist-centered organization Appalshop where she works across a variety of disciplines including visual arts, folk and traditional arts, and media arts to advance new dialogue about documentary practice and socially engaged community-based art.  Barret is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts, Rockefeller Foundation Film/Video/ Multimedia Fellowship, and Kentucky Arts Council’s Al Smith Fellowship in Media Arts. Her self-reflexive exploration and meditation on issues of media representation, Stranger With A Camera (2000), premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast nationally on PBS series P.O.V., the longest running showcase for independent non-fiction film.

Barret is currently Director of the Appalshop Archive; Prod/Dir. of Portraits & Dreams: A Revisitation in collaboration with photographer Wendy Ewald; Project Dir. of A City Built on Coal: Jenkins, KY, a creative placemaking project supported by NEA Our Town; Project Co-Dir. of Mining the Meaning, a creative placemaking project supported by ArtPlace America; Project Dir. of Sounds Like Home, a public programming series supported by NEA that presents the Appalachian field recordings collected by Alan Lomax (1937–1982/83) as a link to living traditions within communities where audio and video documentation was gathered.



Benny Becker is a reporter and producer for WMMT and the Ohio Valley ReSource– a regional collaboration of public radio stations across Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio. Benny grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, and started his public radio work in Providence, Rhode Island, where he also earned a degree in linguistics at Brown University. Benny arrived in Whitesburg from Tel Aviv, where he was a producer and reporter for the podcast Israel Story.


Matthew Carter is WMMT’s Program Director and Traditional Music Project Coordinator. He was born in Pike County, Kentucky and has been a lifelong music fan and musician. Matthew has been a radio programmer with WMMT for several years, and was formerly a guitar instructor for WMMT’s Passing the Pick and Bow Program. He now oversees Pick and Bow as part of the Traditional Music Project.


Dudley Cocke, Director of Roadside Theater, is a stage director, teacher, writer, and media producer. He co-directed Betsy, theater collaboration with Pregones Theater, Bronx, NY, which premiered in New York City in 2008. International work includes directing the company’s performances in the Czech Republic, directing Junebug/Jack for England’s Festival of the American South at London’s South Bank Centre, and conducting dance/story workshops for the Baltic Dance Festival in Poland. He has taught theater at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Cornell University, and the College of William and Mary, and often speaks and writes as an advocate for democratic cultural values. His policy remarks and essays have been published by the Urban Institute, Yale University, American Theatre magazine, Americans for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, the Community Arts Network/Art in the Public Interest, The Arts Politic, among others. He co-edited, From the Ground Up, Grassroots Theater in Historical and Contemporary Perspective (Cornell University, 1993), Journeys Home: Revealing a Zuni—Appalachia Collaboration (A:shiwi Press, 2002), and several of his speeches are collected in Voices From the Battlefront: Achieving Cultural Equity (Africa World Press, 1993). Red Fox /Second Hangin’, which he co-authored, is one of seven plays in Alternate Roots: New Plays from the Southern Theatre (Heinemann, 1994). Cocke is a board member of the Bush Foundation, St. Paul, MN; Imagining America, Syracuse University; RUPRI, Washington, D.C., and Appalshop. He is a founding member of Alternate ROOTS and the Global Network for Cultural Rights, and is the recipient of the 2002 Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities.


A native of central Connecticut and longtime resident of Chicago, Minneapolis, and southern New Jersey, Ben relocated to Appalachia in 2015 to manage Appalshop’s projects in arts- and community-based cultural and economic development.  A theater director and dramaturg, Ben has served on the board of directors of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc., trained and directed the homeless-and-housed zAmya Theater Project, and worked as dramaturg on the German-language premieres of the musicals Grey Gardens and Anyone Can Whistle.  A scholar and practitioner of community organizing, Ben has organized with faith, labor, and neighborhood organizations in the Twin Cities, consulted with the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, and directed community engagement programs at Appel Farm Arts and Music Center in rural southern New Jersey, where he also spent several summers running youth theater and creative writing programs.  A writer and teacher, Ben holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of Minnesota, where he also taught and trained instructors for many years.  His writings on theater, pedagogy, and organizing have been published in Theater Topics, HowlRound, and the University of Colorado Press; his first book, The Problem With Education Technology (Hint: It’s Not the Technology), was released in February 2016.


Kate Fowler is a documentary filmmaker, photographer and educator from Richmond, Virginia and currently serves as the Director of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute. Before joining the Appalshop team, Kate worked for the Magnum Foundation as Program Coordinator of their Photography, Expanded initiative. During her time at Magnum Foundation, Kate co-organized and directed educational programming and events on documentary storytelling at the intersection of social justice and technology, including the third annual Photography, Expanded Symposium at Parsons The New School. Previously, Kate co-directed a series of photography workshops throughout Europe and NYC with the Italian school of photography, Spazio Labo’, and has lectured and co-taught workshops at Columbia’s School of Journalism, Virginia Military Institute and at LOOK3: Festival of the Photograph. She holds a BFA in Photography & Filmmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University where she interned at LOOK3 and served as a facilitator during the Tasmeem Design Conference in Doha, Qatar.
Kate has written essays on documentary practice for the Oxford American, American Suburb X and Burn Magazine and has screened and exhibited her personal work in international publications and film festivals. She is currently on the board of Roger May’s crowd-sourced project Looking at Appalachia and serves as the co-director of Tactics of Collaboration: A Participatory Playbook with artist Mark Strandquist, a project that seeks to visualize the unseen moments of community organizing and social practice by mapping large-scale, community-based works.


Alex graduated from Berea College in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and earned his J.D., Doctor of Laws, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2012. Alex also holds a certificates in international comparative law from Queen Mary at the University of London, England and in Thai and South East Asian Studies form Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Alex now serves as the Executive Director of Appalshop, a multi-media arts organization located in Whitesburg Kentucky.

Before joining Appalshop, Gibson practiced law within the Torts, Insurance, and Business Litigation practice groups at Stites & Harbison, PLLC in Louisville, KY and in the Business Litigation group at Ballard, Spahr, Andrews, and Ingersol in Philadelphia, PA. Before entering private practice, Gibson served as a federal law clerk for the Hon. Thomas W. Phillips, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee where he assisted in the resolution of multi-million dollar law suits, federal criminal trials, and critical questions of constitutional law, particularly, those issues that implicate the First Amendment. Prior to his clerkship and while attending law school, Alex provided Pro Bono legal services to asylum seekers from central and west Africa, conducted tax workshops in West Philadelphia, and he was part of a delegation sent to Mombasa, Kenya to teach constitutional law to women’s rights groups in the wake of Kenyan constitutional reform.



Marley joined Appalshop in June of 2017 as a Community Development Worker. A native of Virginia, he graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology and Environmental Studies from James Madison University in 2009, and graduated from the University of Virginia with a Master’s Degree in Urban and Environmental Planning in 2017. Prior to joining Appalshop, he worked as an environmental and economic justice community organizer in Southwest Virginia, linking ecological sustainability, community economic resilience, participatory democracy and social justice in pursuit of a better tomorrow for all. Marley is a passionate gardener, canoeist, and occasional host of the Whirled Beet on WMMT.


A daughter of a retired middle school teacher and coal truck driver, Willa Johnson grew up and has returned to her home community in Letcher County. She has served as an Appalachian Transition Fellow, is a co-founder of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project (STAY), and is a newly licensed foster parent. Willa recently worked for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) Community Engagement team where she created FIREshare, a program designed in collaboration with The Holler to train teachers and students to use multimedia tools to tell their own stories about their schools and communities.  She participated in the Appalachian Media Institute as a youth intern in 2007, worked as Lead Educator in 2015, and has recently returned as Program Coordinator.


Kirby is a long time WMMT staff member and producer. He had performed traditional Appalachian music and stories for 20 years before coming to WMMT in 1990. He has been involved in extensive documentation and recording of older musicians and done considerable work with traditional music in schools, both in Appalachia and in other parts of the country. In addition to his radio duties, he was music director of Appalshop’s Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival for three years. In 1989, he produced Lakutshon’ Ilanga: Mucis is a Healer, a 13-hour radio series on music in South Africa distributed nationally, and in 1997, he produced Seedtime on the Cumberland, a 13-part series of music from the annual festival, redistributed nationally in 2001. He has produced recordings for Appalshop’s June Appal record label, including recordings of National Heritage Award winners Lily May Ledford and Wade Mainer. For 10 years, he served as station manager for WMMT. His latest production work is A Fiddle Runs Through It, a radio series profiling the young musicians carrying on Appalachia’s music traditions and the older musicians they learned from. The series aired on more than 130 public radio stations. He has also produced Live at Appalshop, featuring music and short profiles of artists who have appeared live on the Appalshop Theater stage.


Lewis’s filmmaking work reveals working class people fighting for social change. She was associate director/assistant camera for Harlan County, USA, the Academy Award-winning documentary, which focused on the Brookside, KY strike of 1975. After the strike, Lewis moved to the coalfields where she lived for 25 years. Among documentaries she has produced, directed and edited are To Save the Land and People (SXSW, Texas Documentary Tour), a history of a militant grassroots environmental movement; Justice in the Coalfields (INTERCOM gold plaque) about the community impact of the Pittston strike in southwest Virginia; On Our Own Land (duPont-Columbia award for independent broadcast journalism) about the citizens’ movement to stop broad form deed strip-mining; and Chemical Valley EY, co-directed with Mimi Pickering, (P.O.V., American Film and Video Blue Ribbon) about environmental racism. Her documentary Fast Food Women, about women struggling to raise families in minimum wage jobs with no benefits, received national airing on P.O.V. and was part of a Learning Channel series of films about women by women. Other recognized work includes Evelyn Williams, about an African-American activist, coal miner’s wife and mother of nine (Juror’s Choice, Black Maria Film Festival, Margaret Meade Festival); and Belinda, about AIDS-activist Belinda Mason who spoke of the need for a collective response not crippled by homophobia, racism, fear or ignorance (CINE Golden Eagle). In 2012, Lewis and Mimi Pickering will released their latest Appalshop documentary, Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, an exploration of the life and legacy of this renowned racial justice activist. Lewis lives in Austin, TX, and is a Senior Lecturer teaching media editing at the University of Texas.


Mimi Pickering is an award-winning filmmaker and director of Appalshop’s Community Media Initiative (CMI). Her documentaries often feature women as principle storytellers, focus on injustice and inequity, and explore the efforts of grassroots people to address community problems that frequently reflect global issues. Pickering is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two Kentucky Arts Council Artist Fellowships. Her film, The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man, was selected by the Librarian of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 2005. Other documentaries include Chemical Valley, an examination of environmental racism in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley after the Bhopal disaster in India in 1983, which aired on the PBS series P.O.V., and Dreadful Memories, an exploration of the life and times of traditional singer and radical songwriter Sarah Ogan Gunning. The Oral History Review described Pickering’s film Hazel Dickens: It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song as “a powerful tale told by one of Appalachia’s most reverent filmmakers working today…” As CMI Director, Pickering is coordinating the East KY Reproductive Health Project, a collaboration with AMI and young women from the region to create and distribute media telling their stories about reproductive health issues, and producing stories for Making Connections News, a joint effort with WMMT-FM to explore sustainable economic options for the coalfields.


Donna Porterfield, Managing Director of Roadside Theater for the past 32 years, also serves the ensemble as a playwright, dramaturge, and producer. She has been instrumental in the creation and documentation of Roadside’s highly successful community residency model and the model’s methodologies. In 2006-‘07, she worked with prisoners and corrections officers and their respective families, and with people living in communities where prisons are sited to write a play, Thousand Kites, from their stories, which premiered in Lebanon and Richmond, VA, Philadelphia, PA, and Jackson, MS. In 1998-2000, she led a residency with a women’s shelter in central Appalachia, in which she worked with staff and survivors of physical and sexual abuse to write and direct a play, Voices from the Battlefront, addressing domestic violence. Porterfield is producer of Roadside’s ongoing, 28-year collaboration with traditional Native American artists in the Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico; she co-authored the Roadside/Idiwanan An Chawe play, Corn Mountain/Pine Mountain: Following the Seasons, which toured nationally; and she co-edited Journeys Home: Revealing a Zuni— Appalachia Collaboration, a 112 page bilingual book with accompanying compact disc that probes and documents the collaboration. Porterfield’s articles have been published in High Performance Magazine, on the National Endowment for the Arts website, and in the book, The Citizen Artist: 20 Years of Art in the Public Arena. She has served as consultant to the National Endowment for the Arts, Kentucky Arts Council, Arkansas Arts Commission, Virginia Commission for the Arts, Urban Bushwomen, Alternate ROOTS, Southern Arts Federation, and Mid-Atlantic Arts Consortium, among others. In 2005 Porterfield was awarded an individual artist grant from Creative Capital Foundation.


Daryl Royse joined Appalshop in February of 2017 as Financial Director.  Royse is a native of Flemingsburg, Kentucky, and graduated from Georgetown College with degrees in Accounting and English.  After pursuing graduate work at Morehead State University in English and Music Education, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, focusing on his professional career in Accounting, working for various manufacturing and Fortune 500 companies such as International Paper, Kyosan-Denso Manufacturing Company, and lastly, Neogen Corporation.  During this time, Royse also served over 15 years on several LGBT non-profit boards in Lexington, including working with Moveable Feast Lexington, the Lexington Pride Festival committee, and the Imperial Court of Kentucky, and partnering with such organizations as the Pride Community Services Organization (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization), Lexington Fairness, and AVOL (AIDS Volunteers of Lexington).  Much of this work was to increase access to basic services, improve education, promote equality and fairness, and facilitate community awareness.  Building on previous small business ventures in the hospitality and nightclub industry, Royse relocated to Whitesburg in the fall of 2015 and opened Heritage Kitchen, an American comfort food restaurant, with his husband Brad Shepherd.  Royse continues to be civically engaged by focusing on improving the economic transition of Whitesburg and the region.



Rubens joined Appalshop’s Archive staff in 2007 to help safeguard and improve access to the organization’s collections. Her work at Appalshop has focused on cataloging, preserving, and securing safe storage for Appalshop’s thousands of hours of moving image and audio material, as well as its photographs and institutional paper records. She is a graduate of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program where she studied film, video, audio, and digital media archiving. She is interested in the long-term preservation of community and independent media. Rubens is a New Jersey native, and is a member of the Kentucky Council on Archives and the Association of Moving Image Archivists.


Elizabeth Sanders is co-General Manager of WMMT. She was raised in eastern Kentucky and, after moving away as a teen, made her way back to the region in 2009. Elizabeth remembers coming to Appalshop as a kid for a Roadside performance in the 90s and became a volunteer programmer at WMMT in 2010. She serves on the Executive Committee of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, is a member of the STAY (Stay Together Appalachian Youth) Network, and was selected to be part of the 2014 cohort of the Young Climate Leaders Network. You can find Elizabeth pining over Alan Jackson during her Thursday afternoon Honky Tonk Jukebox show on WMMT or learning new kazoo songs for her gnome bard to perform on Dungeons & Dragons night.


Ada Smith is from Whitesburg, Kentucky and currently serves as the Institutional Development Director of Appalshop. She has previously served as Program Coordinator and Co-Director for Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute (AMI.) Ada serves on the board of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) and is a founding member of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) Project, a youth-led multi issue regional network. Ada was selected as a 2013 Arts & Culture Fellow by the Rockwood Leadership Institute. She can be reached at [email protected]


Since 1969 when he was a high school student, Herb Smith has played an active role in Appalshop. Smith continues to make films in the area where he was raised. His films explore cultural, social and economic issues of the Appalachian region. His latest film, The Ralph Stanley Story, is a portrait of the mountain musician who had been performing for more than 55 years. Smith has also completed a film based on an essay by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry, Thoughts in the Presence of Fear. His films and videotapes have been shown throughout the country in venues from community centers and union halls to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. International screenings of his work include Paris, Berlin, Rome, Calcutta, Bombay and Chengdu.


An auntie and eldest daughter of 4 from Bell County, KY, Tanya moved to Letcher County in 2010. She has been working intergenerationally to organize community and shift dominate narratives of Appalachia since graduating from Eastern Kentucky University in 2009. She spent five years on the staff of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and came to Appalshop in 2017 after working to develop an online social learning network called The Holler in eastern Kentucky school districts with the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative. Tanya has contributed to youth programming at the Highlander Center and Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) Project, and served on the Boards of Appalachian Community Fund and currently, Kentucky Foundation for Women. Besides leading regional Sexy Sex Ed workshops and her weekly WMMT program, Feminist Friday, you can also hear Tanya on the regional podcast, Trillbilly Worker’s Party. 


Jim Webb’s affiliation with WMMT goes back to December 1985, a month after the station went on the air. He joined the staff in June 1986 and has held a variety of positions. A native of Letcher County, Webb holds a Bachelor of Arts from Berea College and an MA from Eastern Kentucky University. He is a widely published poet and playwright whose work experiences include hospital purchasing, teaching, printing and publishing, managing a canoe livery, and operating a primitive resort. He is a founding member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Co-Op and the Tug Valley Recovery Center. He is involved with the Letcher County Chamber of Commerce, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Letcher County Tourism Commission.

Appalshop Board of Directors

Tom Torres, Chair
Ada Smith, Vice Chair
Caroline Rubens, Treasurer
Kate Fowler, Secretary

Matthew Carter, Executive Committee Member
Mimi Pickering, Executive Committee Member
Stephanie Tyree, Executive Committee Member
Nell Fields, Executive Committee Member
Michelle Miller, Executive Committee Member