"It’s going to take all of us working together to create just, equitable, and healthy communities in Appalachia." - Margo Miller
Your career path has led you through many experiences with social justice and arts advocacy. How do these experiences inform your work in philanthropy?
My entry into the world of social justice came from working with the Carpetbag Theatre, a professional, multigenerational ensemble company whose mission is to give artistic voice to the issues and dreams of people who have been silenced by racism, classism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and other forms of oppression. Through them, I was also introduced to Alternate Roots, a regional group of artists who use art and culture as a tool for social change and social justice. Ever since then, I have been committed. I loved using artistic expression and working collaboratively with other artists and community members to make positive change.
I was looking to move back home after years of working in DC, mostly doing development work. When I saw the position of development director for ACF, I applied and got the job. Given my commitment to social justice work, it was a good fit, even though I was more used to working as a grantee. I looked forward to having the opportunity to be on the other side of the table. A lot of times I miss being on the ground doing the work. But I’m coming to grips with my position and I remind myself that raising money for social change is my activism. But I never would have thought in a million years I would be doing this work.
I’m always finding ways to bring art and culture to the work we’re doing at ACF. During gatherings and events, I always make sure there is food and music. I’ve also started finding ways to directly collaborate with artists and cultural organizations. Most recently, we’ve applied for a grant to partner with the Carpetbag Theatre to provide digital storytelling training to our grantees. This would be a two year project, arming our grantees with the tools and skills to be able to tell their stories and lift up the issues of the region. I’m very excited about this project.
How did you get involved with the Appalachia Funders Network?
ACF was one of the early members of the Network—we were there from the beginning. The former Executive Director of ACF attended the first Gathering. I became more actively involved with the Network when I transitioned to interim Executive Director, but it was Sandra Mikush who called me and asked me if I was interested in being on the Steering Committee. She thought it would be a good opportunity, and she was right.
I was part of the Gathering planning team first. That has been my longest role with the organization. The first Gathering I helped plan was in Berea. I enjoy serving on that committee. Working with network members and practitioners to plan the Gathering feels like being in an ensemble.
You wear a lot of hats at AFN: co-Chair of the Strengthening Community Capacity Working Group, member of the Steering Committee, and Gathering Planning Team. What do you hope to accomplish through these roles?
I hope to bring the Network a fresh eye or different way of looking at things. ACF is a bit different from many member organizations because we support grass roots organizations. I’m committed to making a difference in my community, and a lot of that has to do with finding sustainable resources for our grantees. Our goals [at the Network] are to build relationships and align resources, so I’m getting a lot of benefit from the Network.
I’m excited about what will come out of the work with the Strengthening Community Capacity Workgroup. I believe we have to build the capacity of those in our communities doing the work as well as some of the smaller community foundations that support the work before we can see a sustainable transition.
How has your involvement with AFN affected your work at Appalachian Community Fund?
I’m learning a lot, especially as a new person in this line of work. So I’m bringing what I learn back the staff and board and our grantee groups.
ACF is a very small grantmaking organization. There are times when we’re not able to fund someone, but I can refer them to other funders in the Network. That is invaluable. It helps me from having to keep saying no so much. It feels good to be able to direct folks to other groups that are working to support the transition in Appalachia.
At ACF, our motto is “Change, not Charity.” We support social change organizing. One of the most important things in creating the culture of social change is working together with communities, organizations, foundations, and government entities. Because it’s going to take all of us working together to create just, equitable, and healthy communities in Appalachia.
Who do you look to in the fields of philanthropy, community development, or social justice for inspiration?
I look to the children; they inspire me and motivate me to keep doing this work. They are the ones; it’s their futures we are doing this work for. Every day, especially here lately, there seems to be serious obstacles, struggles, tragedy and just downright stupidity going on all around us. There are times it feels like there are more folks out there that don’t care than there are who do. It weighs heavy on my heart. Then I will see a random act of kindness, see someone perform a courageous act, or I find myself surrounded by an assembly of people who I know are just as committed to seeing positive change as I am…I’m inspired again.
And I’m always inspired by the people who get up day after day, despite all odds, and do the work that makes the region a better place for all of us.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m on the leadership team of the Arts Culture Social Justice Network. I also continue to work closely with the Carpetbag Theatre and Alternate Roots. I’ve gone completely nutty with the Texas Hold ‘Em. I won first place in April in the free roll tournament I play Monday.
And going back to my roots, I intentionally allow myself time for creative expression. Whether it photography, textile arts, or coloring. I also play around on the piano. I’ve been hooked on crocheting, fabric, paper, buttons, quilting, doll making, and jewelry making. I’ve got two sewing machines, a wall of fabric and another of beads and other notions in my craft room. I’m just an avid crafter. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. I get great satisfaction from sitting still, making things and being creative, it’s like giving birth to a part of yourself.
I also love music. ACF is one of three nonprofits in Knoxville that owns a DJ-run, community radio station. In June we celebrated one year on the air.
I have a weekly show called “Mood Music with Margo Miller,” every Tuesday night between 7 and 9 PM. You can play tune in from the website, wozoradio.com or you can find it on Tune In, 103.9 FM. I play all kinds of music, it just depends on what mood I’m in and I have listeners from all over – even in Canada, but my mom and aunt are my most loyal listeners.