Letcher County Arts and Culture
Letcher County is a powerhouse for creative placekeeping and community development. In the heart of Letcher County, the city of Whitesburg is home to Appalshop, a non-profit cultural organization with a long history of arts and activism in the community. Dedicated to equity, social justice and the voices of Appalachian people, Appalshop’s expansive portfolio of programs and projects includes a touring theater company, a record label, documentary film production, community radio, an annual festival and a wide array of educational programs. Their facilities include media production and training spaces, a radio station, a 150-seat theater, an art gallery, a youth drop-in center and a regional archive of film, audio and still images.
Appalshop also convenes the Letcher County Culture Hub, a network of organizations (community centers, arts organizations, volunteer fire departments, business associations and more) that are working together to imagine and shape the future of their community. In a short time, partners have started several businesses, revived two major cultural events and supported many other initiatives.
Whitesburg is also home to numerous locally owned restaurants, a distillery, a cocktail and music lounge, a music store, a bookstore, a tattoo parlor and a diversified technology and design company – all of which are more than meets the eye. For example, Roundabout Music not only sells music and instruments but also serves as a frequent concert venue; the Cozy Corner book store sells local crafts; the Parlor Room tattoo shop serves as an art and music studio; and Mountain Tech Media is a mission-driven, cooperatively owned company using technology and design to enhance public perceptions and the economic vitality of Appalachia.
To the east, the city of Jenkins showcases its cultural heritage and vision for the future in two new public murals created in collaboration with local citizens, EpiCentre Arts and Appalshop, and funding from an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Jenkins is home of the Little Shepherd Amphitheater – site of many community events and regular summer productions of the outdoor drama Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come.
Community centers in Carcassonne, Cowan Creek, Campbell’s Branch, Linefork and Hemphill provide invaluable gathering spaces, cultural programming and preservation of community traditions. Carcassonne is known for its quilting club and monthly square dance and Cowan for its annual Mountain Music School.
Entrepreneurs and volunteers are hard at work promoting new creative endeavors in small communities throughout the county. One family has turned the old South East Coal Company Store in Seco into a winery / bed and breakfast, using formerly mined land for the vineyard. Shop owners along Highway 7 South have banded together to promote one another’s businesses as part of “Antique Alley.” Groups like Reviving Our Lower Letcher and the Route 7 Artisan Fellowship are working with their neighbors to turn this strip of highway into a tourist destination through events like the locally written Blackey community plays and Jammin’ in the Park.
View photography and listen to a group poem by high school students at Jenkins Independent School. Their poem is modeled after “Where I’m From,” a well-known poem by Kentucky poet George Ella Lyon. For this project, students worked with visiting artists Judy Sizemore and Octavia Sexton and Kentucky Educational Television Media Arts Educator Cynthia Warner.
Thanks to Malcolm J. Wilson for providing many of the photographs on this page.