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Thoughts In the Presence of Fear


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The role of the artist in dealing with the issues of the day is to transcend the given wisdom, to transcend the word of the orthodoxy, the establishment . . . to go beyond what is handed down by the government or what is said in the press or said on television. The job of the artist is to think outside the boundaries, to dare to say the things that no one else will say.

Howard Zinn, social historian
Speaking at Massachusetts College of Art, October 2001

Summary and Statement of Need   (return to top)

Eastern Kentucky University's Center for Appalachian Studies and Appalshop, a multi-media cooperative in Whitesburg, Kentucky, propose a campus-community partnership that involves EKU faculty and students in a participatory research project that will lead to the creation of a documentary film that will be aired on Kentucky Educational Television's Headwaters series. The project draws its inspiration from the writing of author Wendell Berry, a Kentuckian who is one of the foremost voices of rural America. The focus of this project is Berry's essay Thoughts in the Presence of Fear written in response to the horrible events of September 11, 2001. Appalshop and the Center for Appalachian Studies at EKU will interpret the essay as a media production and as a resource tool for engaging Kentucky teachers, students and the general public. The essay points to the violent consequences of the global economy and calls for a more locally based "peaceable economy." The essay's global concerns will be presented from the perspective of a specific locality, the coalfields of central Appalachia.

The proposed project will address several overlapping needs. The first is for students from the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deepen their understanding of their homeland and its connection to other regions and the world beyond their borders. Growing up in the mountains can be a confusing experience. On the one hand, there is a functioning network of mutual aid and support in most mountain communities. This sense of belonging and deeply rooted connections to a particular place is not only comforting but can be empowering. On the other hand, the economic difficulties of the area and demeaning stereotypes of folks from eastern Kentucky often cause young people to seek ways to escape. The EKU—Appalshop campus-community partnership will engage our students in the research, writing and editing of an important documentary, and encourage young people to explore the history and culture of Appalachia and the relationship of the region to the nation and the world.

The second is the need to engage students and adults in consideration of important international issues that the country is facing today. America's "war on terrorism" and the recent warfare in Iraq give the topic an urgency and timeliness that promises to seize the imagination of our students, artists at Appalshop and citizens of Letcher County. The project offers a mechanism for multiple voices in a community to be heard. The structured dialogue of a moderated forum and the proposed "listening project" offer benefits to the constituents served in Letcher County and Kentucky. EKU students will play a key role in facilitating this structured dialogue and preparing a discussion guide for classroom use.

Third, the campus-community partnership that will take place in the coalfields of central Appalachia will help overcome some of the barriers and lack of access to resources for creative endeavors of this nature. All Americans, from the President to coal miners, from fast food workers to college professors, need to use cultural tools to help us deal with our status as a vulnerable nation. Berry's essay offers thoughts about ways that Americans can "live lives that are economically, politically, socially and culturally responsible. Thoughts in the Presence of Fear will challenge viewers to think rather than simply to react in anger and fear. It will be an excellent catalyst for education and as a tool for respectful dialogue in the community and nation.

Background     (return to top)

The Wendell Berry essay "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear" is a concise series of statements broken down into 27 segments. The essay speaks about basic values like thrift, self-sufficiency and "peaceableness." As publisher, the Orion Society states the book In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World offers "essays that transcend and deconstruct the consuming rhetoric about September 11, while offering authentically healing and constructive commentary."

Berry's words reflect the humanitarian values strongly stated in the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents of the United States. Yet, he cautions us about national self-righteousness, reminding us of our failures as well as our strengths. Just as we are still debating the Civil War, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Cuban missile crisis, we will be searching for ways to more deeply understand the September 11 attacks years from now. The proposed project will help contribute to that process. One of the campus-community partnership's goals is to prompt thoughtful discussions about the role of the artist in society, the future of rural Kentucky and issues facing the nation as a democracy. The support of the University Research Committee will enable this kind of valuable educational and civic engagement to occur.

The Thoughts in the Presence of Fear project will expand the definitions of place-based participatory research within the region and provide students with important information and skills for understanding the region's past and for guiding its future.

Media Component and Strategies     (return to top)

The film/video component led by filmmaker Herby Smith will use the recorded audio sound of Berry reading his original writing. The words spoken in his regional accent are precise and full of meaning. Although the essay is short, it contains many thought-provoking ideas. Various images of America will be juxtaposed with his voice. The scenes represent the place the Appalshop media artist knows best and fit the material because of his belief that the experiences of the region can offer insights for the rest of the nation. People from the southeastern Kentucky coalfields, have endured persistent "hard times." The economy of the area has suffered through chronic unemployment as ever larger and more efficient mining machines have displaced miners. Visually, these problems are obvious and poignant in this part of the country. Smith will continue exploring ways to use this specific place for imagery that resonates with the overarching ideas expressed in the essay.

While music is important in most films/videos, it is especially important in this media production. Most Americans have deep emotional responses to the horrors of September 11th. Those varied emotions and the weight of the issues raised require music that has a tone and complexity that fit the subject matter. In previous Appalshop films, the use of traditional music from the area has been the primary choice for the documentary work. For Thoughts in the Presence of Fear, the media maker will work with other musicians, recording artists and a student or two, to create an original score for the sound track that will be a key element of the production.

Throughout the production process, filmmaker Herby Smith will work with co-investigator Dr. Alan Banks and other EKU partners (as yet unnamed) as humanities scholars. They will look at cuts of the film/video, offer critique and suggestions for improvement, as well as advice and assist with its utilization within educational settings and among the general citizenry. As producer/director of the media component, Smith will also serve as a mentor to area youth who will be participating in the project through the Appalachian Media Institute and EKU students.

Area youth and EKU students will be involved in the editing process that combines new and archival footage, the musical score, text, and watercolors; the process of building the soundtrack; the planning of the DVD version of the media production; and the outreach activities. The DVD will include additional material gleaned from public scholarship--conducted by Appalshop staff, EKU students and Alan Banks.

Scholarship Component & Strategies     (return to top)

I have come to believe that empowering individuals on the one hand to communicate their ideas and feeling to others, and on the other hand to listen and see the world through the experiences of others is among the most important educational functions of the arts and of the humanities.

Jonathan Katz, President
National Association of State Art Agencies

The proposed project will look at who we are as a community and region as the nation considers building a new Iraq and possible military ventures on the new horizon. It will be a "listening project" that explores where we are headed as the milestone of the second anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington approaches and the debate and reflection continues. Appalshop and EKU will use media as a springboard for dialogue about a community's sense of itself, about the roles of citizens in a democracy, and about America's connection with the world.

As Howard Zinn, one of the nation's premier historians and author of A People's History of the United States says in his frequent and passionate talks since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, "[T]here are certain historical moments when learning is more intense than at any other period. And this is one of those moments too, right now, after September 11th. At a recent debate held at the University of Pennsylvania and recorded for the NPR program Justice Talking, he encourages students to learn to think more critically about America and its history saying, "I'm not suggesting that we trash the past . . ., but I'm suggesting patriotism means being true and loyal—not to the government, but to the principles which underlie democracy."

During the Fall 2003 semester, approximately twelve EKU students enrolled in an interdisciplinary course will conduct participatory research that focuses on the general question: "What does it mean to love America? What does it mean to be patriotic? How do we learn to be good citizens for Appalachian communities, for Kentucky and the nation?"

The specific focus of the class will include a) a review of the emergence of ideas relating to democracy and patriotism in the United States and the Appalachian region, b) an examination of the consequences that September 11th terrorism has had on these ideas, and c) initiate a "listening project," a series of public forums with local residents, community leaders, educators and community-based artists.

Students will spend the first three weeks of the class attending lectures on competing theoretical models for understanding September 11th and terrorism and the various ways democracy and social change have played out in a regional context, starting with revolutionary texts such as the Declaration of Independence and moving on to specific regional examples such as Miners for Democracy, a reform movement led by rank and file within the UMWA; "maximum participation of the poor" in the early design of America's war on poverty; protest efforts by citizen/preacher Uncle Dan Gibson, a legendary symbol of the early anti-stripmining movement in the Cumberland plateau of eastern Kentucky.

Following this introductory period, students will be divided into teams supervised by Dr. Banks and Appalshop staff with specific tasks. Besides identifying and reading other writings by Wendell Berry, they will spend three weekends in Letcher County reviewing the status of the video production and post-production, listening to local residents and community leaders about the history of patriotism in the county and region; and attending a joint meeting of educators, interested citizens, community-based artists and representatives of government and civic organizations. Students will present their impressions at a mini-conference funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington D.C. in mid-November.

At all times, the following guidelines will be adhered to:

  • Students will be involved in participatory research. They will listen, cooperate and be a part of---not apart from--the community research project.
  • Students will become familiar with the structure and work of Appalshop and its approach toward regional identity and expression, cultural development and youth leadership. Herby Smith and Appalshop Education Initiatives Director Maureen Mullinax will speak to the class about the role of the arts and media in civic society and guide them in their listening project.
  • Students, in collaboration with Appalshop artists, will facilitate screenings and discussions of the video/DVD, contact the media about such events, and invite various constituencies such as eastern Kentucky educators, high school students, peace activists in the area, those working toward sustainable economies in the region, and members of faith-based groups in Kentucky. Students will be encouraged to listen carefully to these discussions and explore their implications for the film/video with Appalshop artists. They will also present a summary of their experiences at the ARC funded teaching/research mini-conference in November of 2003, the annual Appalachian Studies Association meeting in March 2004, and public forums in Letcher County and other appropriate venues.

Project Goals and Outcomes     (return to top)

  • To strengthen the ties between academic entities, cultural institutions and their surrounding communities.
  • To involve EKU students in a creative research process that maintains high standards of scholarship and artistic excellence.
  • To encourage interdisciplinary, collaborative and place-based work that leads to a lasting relationship between Eastern Kentucky University and Appalshop.
  • To increase participation in arts and humanities programming by creating spaces for more diverse audiences and for informed and thoughtful dialogue on controversial topics.
  • To enhance educational opportunities for young people in Letcher County and students at EKU to learn about the culture, history, and concerns of people in Appalachia and rural America that both separate and bind us together.

Anticipated outcomes of the Thoughts in the Presence of Fear project include: 1) the creation of a media production and completion of a DVD "product;" 2) a powerful resource for the development of curriculum materials, 3) a series of outreach activities that engage educators, students, and the general citizenry through public screenings and discussions as well as a proposed statewide television broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television; and 4) a scholarship initiative that can be used as a model for those who seek to create successful programs in their communities with campus partners.

Partners, Participants, and Personnel    (return to top)

The individuals responsible for the implementation of the media and the scholarship components of the project bring a broad range of educational, artistic, and managerial experience to the campus-community collaboration. EKU's Center for Appalachian Studies is dedicated to, among other things, building community partnerships which link the human and technical resources of the university with the communities we serve. Alan Banks has done this in a very concrete way drawing on his experience as a long-time consultant/humanities scholar with several Appalshop film and radio productions and community based research initiatives such as the Headwaters and the Shaped by Water Projects (see for more details). Key personnel at Appalshop have received numerous national awards for their work and have many decades of experience in community-based arts, project management, and youth arts education. Herby Smith, the son and grandson of coalminers, produces work about the region from the region and is a member of the Board of Directors of Appalshop, the community-based media, arts and education center. Maureen Mullinax, Director of Appalshop's Education Initiatives, has directed Appalshop's youth media training program, the Appalachian Media Institute, since 1998. Ms. Millinax has coordinated and conducted media workshops and artist residencies with high school students and their teachers during the school year and has gained a national reputation for her work in the field of youth media. Ms. Mullinax and Mr. Smith are interested in extending this approach to college students and see this as a modest beginning in this direction. Thoughts in the Presence of Fear co-producer, Elizabeth Barret, has successfully secured funding for her media productions from the Soros Documentary Fund, the Mac Arthur Foundation, and the NEH, among others. She has most recently been launching the Appalshop Archive. All key personnel at Appalshop have participated in the development of the project with Alan Banks and the Center for Appalachian Studies.

  • Herby Smith

    As a Whitesburg, Kentucky high school student, Herb E. Smith was a member of the original class of trainees in the Community Film Workshop, and thus has been with Appalshop since its inception. In his films, Smith has documented both mountain traditions and socio-economic threats to traditional mountain life. His film credits include The Ralph Stanley Story (2000), Beyond Measure: Appalachian Culture and Economy (1995), Whoa, Mule (1989), Unbroken Tradition: Jerry Brown Pottery (1988), Hariette Simpson Arnow (1987), Strangers and Kin (1984), Hand Carved (1981), In the Good Old Fashioned Way (1973), In Ya Blood (1971), and Judge Wooten and Coon-On-A-Log (1970). He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, President of the Board for MACED (Mountain Association of Community Economic Development), and serves as a member of the University of Kentucky Humanities Fellowships Advisory Committee of the Appalachian Center through a program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that brings together scholars and citizen activists and/or artists working on questions of globalization, democracy, and environmental sustainability. He also served on the citizens advisory committee for the Headwaters Project, a collaborative teaching/research project between citizens of Letcher County, Kentucky and the Center for Appalachian Studies at Eastern Kentucky University (2001-2003).

  • Maureen Mullinax

    With over 15 years experience as an educator, Maureen has taught a wide range of topics including sociology of culture, media studies, gender and society, and race—ethnic relations. She holds a Masters degree in Sociology from the University of Kentucky with a focus on cultural studies, the sociology of art, poverty issues and qualitative research methods. Maureen has concentrated on the areas of the practice and study of oral history. Since 1998, she has directed Appalshop's Appalachian Media Institute (AMI). In this capacity, Maureen supports the community-based media work of young people, teachers and community members in six counties across eastern Kentucky. AMI has received such prestigious awards as "Coming Up Taller Award" from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities for its innovative arts work with disadvantaged youth.

  • Elizabeth Barret

    A native of Kentucky and a veteran documentary maker, Elizabeth has pursued an abiding interest in the history, culture and people of Appalachia. She is the producer/director of Stranger with a Camera and works as a community-based artist with Appalshop, the award winning media and arts center. In her documentaries, including Quilting Women (1976), Hand-Carved (1980), Coalmining Women (1982), and Long Journey Home (1987), Appalachians tell their own stories. These works have been screened at film and video festivals and venues worldwide. Barret is a recipient of a Kentucky Arts Council Fellowship in Media Arts, a NEA Southeast Media Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation Film/Video/Multimedia Fellowship. She is currently involved in outreach using her documentary Stranger with a Camera that premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast nationally on the PBS series P.O.V.

  • Alan Banks

    After receiving his doctorate degree from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Dr. Banks moved to Kentucky where he has studied and taught for 25 years. Alan has published numerous articles about the sociology, political economy, environment, and culture of eastern Kentucky and Appalachia. He is the 2003 Program Chair for the Appalachian Studies Association which recently held their annual meetings at EKU in Richmond, Kentucky; there were more than 650 scholars, students, community residents and activists in attendance. Dr. Banks helped create "Earth Days in the Cumberlands," an annual month-long EKU series of events that serves as a vehicle for student and citizen learning and dialogue about environmental issues facing our region and the world. Banks has been a consultant/humanities scholar on a number of Appalshop productions over the past twenty years and is currently working with citizens in Letcher County to develop solutions regarding problems with water quality in the area. Called the Headwaters Project, it is a model for collaboration between academic centers and Appalachian communities.

  • Wendell Berry

    Mr. Berry is a conservationists, essayist, novelist and poet. Since 1965, he has worked on a farm in Henry County, Kentucky, where in 1934 he was born. The New York Times has called Berry the "prophet of rural America." Berry is a former professor of English at the University of Kentucky and a past Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. He has been recognized with writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He has received numerous awards for his work, including an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lannan Literary Award for nonfiction and the T.S. Elliot Award.

    Berry has given Herby Smith of Appalshop permission to use his words and has allowed a recording of his voice reading Thoughts in the Presence of Fear to be used for this project.

Project Timeline     (return to top)

May 1, 2003 - August 31, 2003

  • Meeting of EKU faculty with Appalshop artists and other key leaders in the local community from government, the field of education and the cultural sector.
  • Documentation begins.
  • Youth from the area are chosen for the Appalachian Media Institute summer training program.
  • Start of youth mentorship with media artist Herby Smith.
  • Complete principle shooting for media production.
  • Edit second draft of work-in-progress.
  • Work with composer and musicians to create the score for the production.
  • Choose other sound elements and build the sound track.

September 1, 2003 - December 15, 2003

  • EKU students enroll in Dr. Alan Banks' class.
  • EKU students with faculty member and Appalshop staff begin work in Letcher County, Kentucky.
  • Documentation continues.
  • EKU students and Appalshop artists participate in Appalachian Regional Commission "Teaching/Research" conference in Washington D.C.
  • Complete final edit.
  • Mix sound, do video mastering.
  • Thoughts in the Presence of Fear is completed on video.
  • DVD is planned incorporating public scholarship.

January 1, 2004 - April 30, 2004

  • Curriculum materials are developed in strategic partnership with the American Legacies project of the Kentucky Historical Society and another education partner selected by EKU and Appalshop.
  • Series of public screenings/discussions commence.
  • DVD is produced and disseminated.
  • Public television broadcast is scheduled.
  • Documentation is completed.
  • Educational distribution and dissemination begins.

Future Plans     (return to top)

  • Dissemination of the DVD

    The project team of scholars and artists are planning for the continuation of the project through the distribution of the DVD to educational institutions and individual users. This phase of the project's on-going activities will be carried out primarily by Appalshop. The organization has a track record of circulating its documentaries to public schools, public libraries, colleges & universities, community groups and other non-profits. There is staff of two that will place Thoughts in the Presence of Fear in conferences and programs of academic professionals, enter the work in media festivals and for arts programs at venues such as museums and art centers, create informational and publicity flyers announcing the release of the DVD, do targeted mailings and email notifications of this new work from Appalshop to specific constituencies, and handle the inquires, orders, and fulfillment for the educational and general audience.

  • Engagement of K-12 and higher education teachers and their students in its use.

    During the grant period, project personnel will be surveying and selecting partners for the development of curriculum. Conversations to date have been with the Kentucky Historical Society and the "American Legacies" project, a 3-year professional development made possible with funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Public Forums

    EKU and Appalshop will seek out funding and opportunities for continuing the public screenings of Thoughts in the Presence of Fear followed by audience discussions with the project scholars, student representatives and media maker in other parts of Kentucky, the region and nationally. For this outreach work, co-investigators Smith and Banks will look for partners in academia and from varied community organizations who can plan and publicize such events, get viewers there who are interested and care about the topics being presented, and help facilitate the exchange of ideas.

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