About the Project
Our Creative Promise is an information gathering and sharing project designed to support communities in ten Southeastern Kentucky counties in taking inventory of the artists, cultural organizations, events, venues and other creative assets currently in the area. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and federal Promise Neighborhood funds and facilitated by Partners for Education (PFE) at Berea College, which has an institutional commitment to serve the Appalachian region.
We hope the information shared here might serve as a point of pride for local residents, a way to learn about activities and resources in the area, a means of identifying gaps in information or resources, an impetus for networking with others doing similar work in the region and a springboard for future creative placekeeping efforts.
Partners participated in asset-mapping training provided by the Kentucky Arts Council and gathered directory-style information on arts and cultural resources in the region through:
- community forums
- internet research and
- input from various organizations and individuals living and working in the region.
We have also facilitated creative student engagement in this project. Through field trips to Kentucky Educational Television’s media arts lab and professional artist residencies at schools in each county, students have:
- identified and discussed creative assets in their communities
- conducted oral history interviews
- shot or collected photographs of their communities past and present
- wrote original place-based poetry and music
- created public murals and sculptures and
- developed digital media to include on this website.
Please visit the Student Spotlight on each county page to view their work.
The information provided here is by no means comprehensive. For example, we know that the “Artists, Artisans and Advocates” category includes only a small fraction of the creative individuals living and working in the region. The maps and spreadsheets should be considered a snapshot of arts and cultural assets identified during the course of our project rather than “living documents.”
About the Region
Located in central Appalachia, Southeastern Kentucky features mountains and forests, rural farms and charming small towns, abundant wildlife and people known for their hard work, resilience and resourcefulness. The cultural fabric is richly woven from the region’s long history and artistic heritage.
Artisanal traditions reaching back generations are still active today – cooking and canning homegrown foods, performing mountain music and making instruments such as the mountain dulcimer, square dancing, clogging and other folk dances, basket and broom making, blacksmithing, woodworking, quilting, weaving and many other crafts abound. There are plenty of contemporary artists drawing upon these traditions and bucking them too. From writers to web designers, from fiber artists to filmmakers, folks are creating art and media to share a story all their own.
One story we are seeing repeated throughout the region is that of artists, business people, government officials and others coming together to envision a better future and collaborate on creative solutions to the serious challenges facing their communities. The challenges are real and pervasive – declining coal jobs and economic downturns, damage to the environment and drinking water, deteriorating infrastructure, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, poor health, substance abuse, underfunded public education and more. Yet hopeful, determined citizens are asking, “Despite our problems, what do we have that we can be proud of?” and “What resources can we draw upon to affect positive change?” While answers vary, the arts are often a key ingredient, serving in roles both large and small – activating spaces, beautifying buildings, engaging residents, attracting tourists, providing employment, educating, entertaining, expressing hopes and fears, feeding stomachs and nourishing spirits.
We hope you will browse the individual county pages on this site to read in more detail about traditional and transformative arts and cultural practices in our region.
What is the Kentucky Promise Zone?
In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out an initiative to designate a number of communities as Promise Zones. These zones are identifiable as high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities. The federal government will partner with and invest in communities to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities and reduce violent crime.
The Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone is the first rural Promise Zone. It includes Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley Counties.
More about the Kentucky Promise Zone:
More about Promise Zones nationwide:
What are the Kentucky Promise Neighborhoods?
The Promise Neighborhood program supports a continuum of services for youth from cradle-to-career. Promise Neighborhood partners with schools and community based organizations to provide workshops, public health initiatives, community safety programs, and educational support for all children within the Neighborhood from early childhood to age 24.
Starting in 2012, the Berea College Promise Neighborhood was the first rural Promise Neighborhood and includes Clay, Jackson and Owsley Counties. Partners for Education at Berea College launched an additional Promise Neighborhood initiative in Knox County in 2017 and will begin in Perry County in 2018.
In our mapping process, partners identified over 1100 creative assets throughout the region. This map features select items which have a significant regional impact or are particularly exemplary as creative/arts/cultural assets in each category. For more detailed listings, please view the maps and spreadsheets on each county page.
Click here to download this information as a spreadsheet. You are welcome to use, share, and publish this information for any non-profit or educational purposes.