Whitesburg KY

Cowan group recognized

The work of the Cowan Community Action Group, a 2007-08 Governor’s Awards in the Arts recipient, with a citation from the Kentucky State Senate.

“These volunteers provide a service that is immeasurable to the citizens of Whitesburg and Letcher County. While protecting our children, they are also exposing them and the rest of the community to new educational, social, cultural and recreational experiences,” said Senator Johnny Ray Turner, D-Drift. “These experiences allow our young people and their parents to grow their minds and to keep alive the culture and traditions of Eastern Kentucky.

The afterschool activities, music classes, dances, day camps and the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School focus on the cultural and social basis of the community, the traditional arts, from old-time music to square dancing to storytelling.

The group took an abandoned schoolhouse and created the Cowan Community Center. At the center, the arts are taught in the traditional manner —- passing them on from person to person. This method engenders pride in children, families and the community as well as revitalizing southeastern Kentucky’s folk traditions and setting an example for other rural communities to follow.

The centerpiece of the Cowan Community Action Group’s arts programming is the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, held each year during the last full week of June. The school offers a week of intensive instruction in traditional fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, singing, dulcimer making, square dancing and storytelling for youth ages 11 through adults. Instruction ranges from absolute beginner to advanced levels and focuses on the east Kentucky repertoire. Students, including beginners, learn to play in groups during daily faculty-led jam sessions and are encouraged to participate as band members during the evening square dances.

There are also classroom visits by recognized masters such as Lee Sexton, Paul Smith, Bruce Green and the Tri-City Messengers. The school’s faculty has included Dirk Powell, Art Stamper, Roger Cooper, John Harrod, Randy Wilson, Charlie Whitaker and Jimmy McCown.

In addition to the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, the Cowan Community Action Group also teaches leadership and involves community members in development activities. Other programming activities include monthly community square dances, operating an afterschool music program, and participation in programs out of the area to promote the region’s artistic traditions.

“The Cowan Community Action Group believes in the importance of conserving the traditional arts, not just for posterity, but for strengthening family bonds and creating community-wide purpose,” said Senator Turner. “This dedicated group of volunteers are keeping alive the traditions of Eastern Kentucky and bringing together stronger families and comm unities.”

Senator Turner represents the 29th district, which includes Breathitt, Floyd and Knott and Letcher counties.

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