From an outsider’s perspective, the town of Whitesburg, Kentucky is a slight variation of any other coal-dependent, mountainous area of Appalachia. Appalachia is not exactly known for its glamorous opportunities or attractive living styles. The scenery of the region, as beautiful as it is, can’t take away the astonishing 19.7% poverty rate. But that didn’t stop one group of film students from recording various real-time news stories and storing them away to preserve their history in a place called ‘Appalshop’.
In the late 1960s, major news organizations gave a new look into the traditionalist, simple society. With the whole world now able to watch, a shop opened up on the outskirts of the Eastern Kentucky town. Originally meant to preserve the history of the town’s roots, the shop has erupted into so much more. It now provides entertainment through movies (directed, produced and edited in house) put on in their theater, a radio that celebrates diversity through music and commentary from Bluegrass to hip-hop channels, and even talk shows where citizens of the district call in to speak their voice. Even further, the shop has an art gallery showing off locally created pieces. All in all, the store truly celebrates achievements marked by members of the community.
Their 4,000-hour long archive of “film, audio and images” is their crown jewel. It includes stories of all perspectives about a wide variety of topics ranging from 1969 to the present. This provides a safe haven for both good and bad memories that the town holds. Through thick and thin, Appalshop will preserve the area’s history, and not let the community forget its roots. As a writer and a student, I know that history is important to learn from, because “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes”. It is important that the children and all people of Appalachia learn this as well, and the people working at Appalshop convey this in an informative way.
Poverty and unemployment plague the region of Eastern Kentucky in the heart of the coal mines and Appalachian mountains. As demand for common jobs like coal mining has subsided, poverty has skyrocketed. In Owsley County, the third highest rate in the U.S., poverty is now an astonishing 45.2%. Nine of the other top 30 counties with the highest poverty rates are also located in Eastern Kentucky. Some of this poverty is due to a decreased demand for coal. In fact, Eastern Kentucky coal employment has fallen by more than 70% in just seven years. As a result, many are seeking other sustainable job options in their own communities.
In steps Appalshop. In the year 1969, a group of students invested in high-quality technology to improve upon their films, and opened up a small shop. Since then, the company has grown immensely, and is known throughout almost all of Appalachia.
Today, according to their website, Appalshop “feeds more than $1,500,000 into the local economy each year”. Since this company has blown up in the region and over the Internet, it also has attracted the investments of other companies looking to relocate, or start up a business in the growing city of Whitesburg. When all of this money comes in, opportunity follows, and the poverty rate falls once more. Now, poverty in Whitesburg has dropped 12-13%, with recent data stating the area has a 28.1% poverty rate. One southern section of town has fallen as low as 11.4%. There is still more work to do, but Appalshop has made an impact on the poverty-stricken Appalachia, and only continues to gain traction.
I encourage readers to check out their website, where they will keep pushing out new and exciting projects. I also encourage you all to watch some of the fantastic content through film that they’ve been putting out for almost 50 years. You can find this here. The editors of the website consistently rotate which movies are available for free. Those not in the rotation are available for a small fee. Overall, Appalshop and its media serves as great learning experience from a perspective that few are in touch with.
To support 71 Republic, please donate to our Patreon, which you can find here.