Arts & Culture Group

Arts and culture is often valued for its ability to enrich lives. More tangibly, arts and culture supports local economic development, better health outcomes, and higher educational attainment.

Central Appalachia enjoys rich artistic traditions in music, crafts, literature, and theatre, among others. As many communities transition their workforce to meet community needs, arts and culture hold untapped potential to foster creative economies that create new jobs and rejuvenate underutilized buildings and downtown corridors. Research shows that creative places attract a range of industries because such places become attractive locations to live, work, and play.

The Arts & Culture Group (ACG) works together to support arts & culture-based approaches to economic development in Central Appalachia. The group focuses on three areas of interest that will comprise their work moving forward: creative placemaking, arts education, and cultural heritage.

Focus Areas

  1. Creative Placemaking

    The ACG’s strong focus on creative placemaking supports an Appalachian transition that is entrepreneurial, inclusive, and elevates the ingenuity and promise of local solutions. Creative placemaking fosters local economic development entrepreneurship by recirculating money into local businesses and inherently takes an asset-based approach where artists and creatives use what is already present in the community to enhance, adapt, and rejuvenate it.

  2. Arts Education

    Arts education is often the type of education that loses funding first and is perceived as less important. Between 1982 and 2008, students receiving any arts education declined from 65% to 50%. The ACG promotes arts education as an important piece of a robust regional (and national) economy that supports children to make good judgements, understand multiple perspectives, and think critically. Creative thinkers are excellent problem-solvers and with the rise of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) education, experts agree that the arts inform and intersect with multiple disciplines. The result, over the long-term, is a better educated workforce and more entrepreneurship, both of which support the Appalachian Transition.

  3. Cultural Heritage

    One of the core issues that continues to undermine our work and the Appalachian transition is a long-standing negative perception of Appalachia. Much of that perception stems from a narrative that Appalachian culture is backward and resistant to change. On the contrary, ACG members hope to lift up an accurate, locally-created narrative that demonstrates Central Appalachia’s rich artistic and creative history, which has challenged structural inequities and been a voice for positive social change. 

In 2020, the group created "Stories of the Power of Art", an exploration into Appalachian culture and heritage. Read the full report here

Read where we make the case for the ACG's focus areas in our case statement.

Co-Chairs of the Arts & Culture Group

Heather Pontonio, The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation

Eric Waggoner, WV Humanities Council

Members of the Arts & Culture Group

Donna Collins, Ohio Arts Council

David Cooke, Berea College Appalachian Fund

Tim Deaton, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky / Appalachian Arts Alliance

Shannon Ford, Tennessee Arts Commission

Bob Reeder, Rural LISC

Lora Smith, Appalachian Impact Fund

David Stocks, The Educational Foundation of America

Susie Surkamer, South Arts

Pat Weir, Berea College

Betsy Whaley, Mountain Association

Joy Young, South Arts

Kathy Allen, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky

Sharon LaRue, Kentucky Foundation for Women

Candace Mullins, Berea College

Mary Fant Donnan, Alleghany Foundation

Stephanie Hyre, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation

Margo Miller, Appalachian Community Fund