Owsley County Arts and Culture
In the hills and hollows of Owsley County, you will find a wealth of artisans, musicians, folk dancers and otherwise creative folk who are highly-driven, hard-working, collaborative and dedicated to making a positive difference in their community.
At the center of many community development efforts stands the Owsley County Action Team which, among its wide array of services, fostered the development of the Owsley County Arts Council, Owsley County Alliance for Recreation and Entertainment, the Booneville Entertainment Center and a recent series of community theater productions called HomeSong 1-3.
The HomeSong project exemplifies the collaborative nature of this community as well as residents’ desire to “tell our own story.” Artists, schools, non-profit organizations, members of the business community and others worked together to develop the scripts and stage the musical productions with an inter-generational cast of residents mostly lacking prior theatrical experience. Many participants reflect that this project, by and about their community, had a significant and lasting impact on them personally and on their county.
Owsley County Schools play a major role in the culture of this small community. Through projects like HomeSong and an annual Heritage Days Festival, the schools frequently engage with the community and celebrate artistic Appalachian traditions. The physical space of the schools also provides a unique, creative environment with skillfully crafted murals covering many of the walls. The elementary school’s cafeteria combines painting and sculptural elements to create an immersive jungle scene sure to ignite the imagination of visitors of any age.
The People’s Rural Telephone Cooperative (described in more detail on the Jackson County page) offers high-speed fiber broadband internet to the schools as well as every business and household in Owsley County. This high-speed access provides a leg-up for technological innovation in education and to local creative industry, particularly folks working with digital media and design or seeking to sell or promote their work online.
One somewhat hidden treasure in this county is the headquarters and warehouse of Appalachian Fireside Crafts Cooperative. For over 34 years, this regional cooperative of quilters, woodworkers, carvers and other artisans has been producing, selling and distributing traditional crafts from native materials. The coop’s more visible retail gallery is located in Berea, in Madison County Kentucky.
Momentum continues to build for creative placemaking and community development in this county. For example, efforts are underway to restore the old Booneville Theater. Another example is the Homegrown and Handmade program, a pilot project conducted by the Owsley County Farmer’s Market, Kentucky Arts Council and USDA, designed to incorporate live music and local artisans as vendors and demonstrators at the market. This program has led to collaboration and mutual benefits for the farmers and the artisans and is now being shared at conferences as a model for cross-sector rural creative placemaking.
Art classes at Owsley County High School enaged in a unique public sculpture project in collaboration with visiting artist and master blacksmith Bob Montgomery and the neighboring Lee County Area Technology Center (aka Vocational School). Students are building a six-foot by thirteen foot owl sculpture with ambitions to produce more and place them throughout the community. Here you can view photographs and listen to students talk about their experience with the project thusfar.
With support from visiting artists Judy Sizemore and Tammy Clemons, the art students also conducted oral history interviews of some of the educators and artists in their county. Click here to listen to their interviews.