ArtPlace Grant Awarded to Harlan County Theater Project

The Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland has produced original plays about prescription drug abuse, life in the coal mines and how young people decide to stay or leave Harlan County after graduation. The program compiles oral histories and interviews with Harlan County residents and turns them into plays about the present and future of Eastern Kentucky.

Now, thanks to a $273,000 grant from the ArtPlace coalition, they will produce another original play based on interviews and oral histories, then stage the production in various historic Harlan County spaces.

“With the new play we’ll be collecting stories about specific communities, then performing the new play in those communities in historic structures within the various communities around Harlan County,” says program director Robert Gipe.

The new project, which will be the Appalachian Program’s fourth original play, will continue to examine the future of Harlan County and its residents. Gipe says offering locals a stage to tell their own contemporary stories is a key component of the program.

“One of the reasons why we’ve been able to keep the work going and keep people involved in the work is it deals with what’s going on now,” says Gipe. “We really go into the writing process open and do a lot of interviews in the community and find out what’s in people’s minds.”

The program will partner with the University of Kentucky’s college of design and Community Performance International to transform historic buildings and other structures, like train depots, into performance spaces.  

ArtPlace is a nation-wide collaboration between top foundations, government agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts and six of the country’s largest banks. They fund art projects with a focus on community development and transformation.

ArtPlace awarded more than $15 million this year to 47 arts projects with a community development focus. The Appalachian Program is one of eight rural initiatives, and the only Kentucky project, to receive funds during this cycle. 

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