A collaboration of Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College’s Appalachian Programming ignited energy at the Kentucky Coal Museum Thursday evening, with a photography exhibit, theater, motivational speaking and a soup bean dinner providing the backdrop for a community discussion regarding Harlan County’s future.
“Sustainable Harlan – Energy For Change,” an ARC Brushy Fork Grant that was secured by SKCTC’s Archivist Larry LaFollette, was the catalyst that created the evening of arts and activism.
SKCTC’s Appalachian Program Director Robert Gipe and his students also joined in with selected scene presentations from the on-going community theater project “Higher Ground” and Eastern Kentucky University film student Jason Edwards, who has ties to Harlan County, facilitated a creativity motivational speech presented by visiting Manhattan artist Jimmy Diresta.
“It was one of the most important nights in Harlan County that I have observed in a while,” said Lynch resident Greg Sturgill.
“The community discussion that was generated regarding our future was one of the most important discussions this county has had in a long time. I was very encouraged by the coming together of fresh ideas to help renew Harlan County. It’s not going to be easy, but there were many here tonight who appeared eager to take on the task.”
The premise of the grant secured by LaFollette, “Sustainable Harlan,” was to utilize interviewing techniques to document residents’ concerns for Harlan County’s future as well as ideas to make their home more self-sufficient on the heels of the coal industry’s decline.
The photos of those interviewed and their documented views were displayed in the “Energy For Change” exhibit which was on display at the museum.
Most interviewed agreed that while coal should continue to be a Harlan County economic player, there needs to be more diversification of industry, more unity, and more action.
The views expressed in the exhibit carried over into the evening’s community discussion. Attending residents spoke about the need for increased teamwork in the fight to make Harlan County more sustainable, as well as the need to overcome fears regarding change.
LaFollette admitted the evening provided little time to tackle the issue of “what’s next” for Harlan County, but told the gathering “it was a start.”
“For the past 100 years we have produced energy resources for other people,” LaFollette said. “It is now time to think of energy as an image for the ability to make creative change within ourselves and our communities.”