Whitesburg KY

Chamber of Commerce spotlights Appalshop

The Letcher County Chamber of Commerce has named Appalshop as the spotlighted April Chamber member.

“People believe some odd and untrue things about Appalshop,” said Appalshop Director Art Menius.

Appalshop is a nonprofit media, arts, and education center of three primary divisions: film/TV, radio, and theater. It began as a Community Film Workshop program during the War on Poverty. Bill and Josephine Richardson brought the program to Whitesburg in October l969. Through high school teacher, Carl Banks, Bill Richardson connected with some students like Herbie Smith, who is still an Appalshop filmmaker today.

Students were fascinated by the film equipment the workshop provided and by l970 were creating community based films such as “Whitesburg Epic.” The basic premise of the Community Film Workshop was to train students to take jobs elsewhere. Instead, the workshop students made their stand here in Letcher County and used their emerging talents to create media by and about the region.

When federal direct funding ceased during the early l970’s, rather than folding the tent, they created a 50l (c) 3 non-profit agency called Appalshop and began seeking grants and contract work. This step led to a cultural flourishing at Appalshop. Appalshop is now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

In the mid-l970’s Appalshop expanded to include a theater component, Roadside Theater, a recording label, June Appal, and even book and magazine publishing. During this time, Appalshop became a Mecca for artists committed to community-based work from near (Hazard’s Elizabeth Barret) and far (California’s Mimi Pickering).

All the artists and programs are connected by a commitment to communities telling their own stories in their own voices and solving problems together at the community level. Appalshop films explore the cultural and social concerns of Appalachia and rural America. Appalshop filmmakers produce media for educational, community, and home use. Headwaters television is an award-winning series of Appalshop documentaries aired on public television, especially, KET and Blue Ridge Public TV.

Many people also enjoy central Appalachia’s community radio station, WMMT-FM 88.7, says Menius. This is a non-commercial community radio station airing programming created by some 50 volunteers. It broadcasts to five states and worldwide via the Internet. The station presents public affairs programming, live performance radio, and a musical spectrum ranging from bluegrass, blues, and gospel to classic rock and soul to hip-hop and beyond.

“Listener support is essential to keeping WMMT on the air,” said Menius.

The largest source of income for Appalshop is through private foundations. ” However,” stated Art, “individual donations are critical to our health.”

Appalshop is an important engine of the local economy. “Just the Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival alone exerts a local economic impact of $261,000,” Menius said proudly. This year’s Seedtime Festival will be June 11-13 on the Appalshop grounds. For more information, visit www.appalshop.org/ Seedtime.

When Menius was asked what he enjoyed about being director of Appalshop, he replied, “The great joy at Appalshop is to be connected to artists and activists that are committed to place and communities and realize that each community must figure out the answers to its problems. When you see young peoples’ lives transformed through our programs, learn that an Appalshop film helped end the broadform deed in Kentucky, or get a phone call from a crippled former miner who depends on WMMT for a connection to the world, the work is all more than worthwhile.”

For more information about Appalshop, email art@appalshop.org or call (606) 633-0108.

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