Summer in Letcher County, KY, 2016:  A framework we’re calling Performing Our Future (POF) is our direct response to central Appalachia’s watershed moment of transition to a post-coal economy. POF combines the expertise of economists, humanities scholars, and artists to advance economic development driven by cultural assets. Four major POF programs are taking place in and around our home county this summer:

Institute. Appalshop will host a gathering from July 14-18 of teams of artists, scholars, and community leaders sponsored by Oregon State, University of Florida, Wilfrid Laurier University (Ontario), Iowa State, Ohio State, Cornell, Virginia Tech, Arizona State University, University of California Davis, and the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development. Participants will explore the questions: How can arts and culture promote individual voice and collective agency, unbounding a community’s imagination and ambition in order to create the conditions for economic development? How can a community organize itself to build an economy that’s broad-based and sustainable? Institute activities will engage teams in investigating the history, animating ideas, and policy environments for arts- and culture-based economic and civic community development; training in methodologies for economic development based on community cultural assets; immersion in Appalachian culture (including discussions with Appalshop’s filmmakers and radio journalists and a square dance at the Carcassonne Community Center); art making, including a 23-hour production period in which each participant will choose to create a short play, short film, set of photographs, music recording, or radio documentary in collaboration with Appalshop professional artists and their community partners; and collaborating within their university-sponsored teams to generate arts- and culture-based development plans to take back to their home communities.

Forum. The Forum is a convening of 20 younger leaders from diverse fields (e.g., health) concerned with the cultural and economic development of struggling communities. At a summer gathering at Pine Mountain Settlement School, Forum members will meet each other and be introduced to Appalshop’s culture hub as a means to further their own practice, research, and teaching. Subsequently, participants will engage one another in monthly hour-long virtual discussions. Members will present, publish, and publicize their insights and research throughout the next two years.

ResearchA team of three Lafayette College economists and their four students began working with Appalshop in the summer of 2014 to identify and map the organization’s assets, as well as to identify and test entrepreneurial strategies for wealth creation. The project is currently exploring ways to market those assets. In related research, Lafayette economist Fluney Hutchinson and Cornell sociologist Scott Peters are investigating how Appalshop’s culture hub and, more broadly, artists and arts organizations can help communities tap their rich cultural assets for economic and civic development. They will publish their initial findings in summer 2017.

Partners. All this activity is a collaboration among Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, a 100-college consortium dedicated to creating democratic spaces to nurture scholarship that draws on the arts, humanities, and design; Lafayette College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP); and Appalshop.

Want to learn more? For further information on Roadside and Appalshop’s wealth of community and economic development projects, media, and activities, we encourage you to sign up for the Appalshop Mailing List (scroll down to the homepage’s bottom right).