Guest Letter by Ben Fink, Appalshop – June 2018 Newsletter

Imagining America-Appalshop Collaboration “Performing Our Future” Enters New Phase
By Ben Fink, Appalshop
In July, Imagining America Faculty Director Erica Kohl-Arenas will travel to Uniontown, Alabama to join with artists, organizers, educators, and other leaders from the Black Belt of Alabama, the coalfields of east Kentucky, theSouthern Tier of upstate New YorkWest Baltimore, and inner-city and rural Wisconsin. For two days, representatives from these five communities will learn from each other, explore commonalities and tensions in their struggles, and work toward strengthening existing practices and building new models of grassroots arts and culture, broad-based organizing, and asset-based development.
This meeting is the beginning of a new phase in the ongoing Performing Our Future project, facilitated by Imagining America and the Appalachian media and humanities center Appalshop. It aims to answer the question: How can arts and culture drive equitable development in communities that have experienced and continue to experience systemic oppression and cultural and economic exploitation? For the past three years, Performing Our Future’s work has been centered on Appalshop’s home county, where a play-making project led by Appalshop’s Roadside Theaterand a consultancy led by Lafayette College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project grew into a network representing over 20 community-led organizations and thousands of county residents, which has opened up new businesses, new sectors, and new pathways for the people of Letcher County, Kentucky to discover latent assets and turn them into community wealth. Institutes and forums co-hosted by Imagining America gave scholars and practitioners from around the country the chance to learn from and contribute to the knowledge being built in Letcher County. Max Stephenson, Director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance, attended one recent event and observed the work’s potential “to repair the fabric of possibility that binds Eastern Kentucky’s residents one to another during a time when both external and internal forces have torn and continue to tear those citizens apart.”
The next phase of Performing Our Future seeks to foster a collaborative network among poor and working class communities across the country whose residents are working together to create a future where (as we’ve come to say in east Kentucky) we own what we make: organizing a national coalition that builds and shares knowledge and advances a common agenda around grassroots-led, culture-driven development.

Imagining America looks forward to building a national research agenda for Performing Our Future with an expanded team of research partners.
For more information on Performing Our Future, or to get involved, contact lead organizer Ben Fink:


Continue reading Imagining America’s June 2018 Newsletter, here.

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