Appalshop was recently honored to be featured in this Milestone Video celebrating the National Endowment for the Arts’ 50th Anniversary. The video combines footage from the Appalshop Archive with interviews from staff, partners and community members that showcase Appalshop’s unique legacy of work in place-based media production and community arts. Thanks to the NEA for this great piece, as well as for their continued support over the years!
The video begins with Herb E. Smith, Appalshop filmmaker since 1969, explaining the thinking behind Appalshop’s inception: “We began to make films that show our world as we see it. We felt like the most important thing that we could do is to stay – that our job as young people in these mountains was to figure out a way to stay in these mountains and not be dependent upon a coal mining job. Appalshop was saying, ‘Hold on a second, lets slow down here. Can’t we create jobs for ourselves through imagination, creativity, hard analysis and deep thought? Can’t we come up with meaningful work for ourselves and our families?’”
The film crew also sat down with Appalshop’s Executive Director, Alexander Gibson, who stressed the importance of having the support of the National Endowment for the Arts over the past 50 years. Gibson said, “The NEA seal of approval has been really important because it is saying that this is art of the highest value. It is our relationships and partnerships with organizations like the NEA that have allowed us to continue to do work in this region and have the community really see their voices reflected in what we produce.”
Valerie Ison Horn fondly recalls growing up in East Kentucky and attending Roadside Theater events as well as being involved in Wendy Ewald’s photography in the schools program, which gave young people a chance to document the world around them as they saw it through still photography. During this time, Portraits and Dreams, a book that included the photographs and words of these young people, was released. “Those pictures were displayed, we travelled with them to New York and Chicago. It gave some validation that our community was picture worthy, and that the stories we had to tell, even as children were important,” Horn says.
Undoubtedly, there is a connection between the presence of Appalshop and the vibrancy of downtown Whitesburg, KY. The NEA crew spoke to local business owner and artist John Haywood, who owns and operates The Parlor Room Art & Tattoo Studio. Haywood says, “as a local business owner in downtown Whitesburg, I could say that the Appalshop has had a pretty interesting effect on the area. Downtown, in particular, I really think we wouldn’t have places like Summit City or Roundabout Records had it not been for the Appalshop being here,” says Haywood.
The video also features Robert Gipe, who goes on to explain how through the NEA Our Town project there are a number of partnerships that have formed, such as Next Generation Leadership and the It’s Good to be Young in the Mountains conference, which brings together young people that are doing great work here in Appalachia, so that there would be an Appalachia for the next generation. “To offer a critique that comes from the community of things that could be better in the community, while simultaneously celebrating things that are worth celebrating in the community… that is a very rare combination of work. I wish every community had an Appalshop,” says Gipe.
Watch the full video below, or by clicking here: