In December, the senior Public Policy & Community Service students traveled to Washington D.C., where we presented a report on sustainability in Appalachia to the Appalachian Regional Commission. In addition to our project, we spent a few days in the nation’s capital, visiting museums, touring National Public Radio, exploring different capital districts, and eating wonderful food! It was both an adventure and a learning experience.
Our journey actually began in August, when we were assigned to various local agencies. Those placements included the Department of Social Services, the Crisis Center, Habitat for Humanity, Feeding America, Valley Health Care Center, the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail, and others. The class members worked in these placements throughout the semester, and we found ourselves immersed in the stories of the Southwest Virginia community.
Heartwood, a new artisan center in Abingdon, is an example of the creative economy in this region. Appalachian economic development has always been centered on the extractive economy, but Heartwood is an attempt to change that focus. The center highlights the assets of the region and builds on that. It’s a new way of addressing economic development in Appalachia. However, it is not the final step in this process.
Our practicum group titled our presentation “The Creative Economy: Next Steps” because we were questioning how the creative economy could be made more inclusive of the people in this region. The people we had worked with at our sites did not find Heartwood particularly relevant when they were struggling to pay rent or concerned about their next meal. We sought to address a central question: How can the creative economy better address the systemic issues of poverty and economic development in our area?
We came up with three avenues where these connections could be made: creative education, creative collaborations, and creative healthcare solutions.
Education could be improved by forming partnerships to enable artisans to teach skills in schools, practice place-based education, and teach sustainability. Artisans connected with Heartwood could help children learn these skills.
There are nonprofit organizations in Southwest Virginia, but the connections among them are few. Through creative collaboration, nonprofits could better utilize resources and help provide more for the community.
Finally, creative healthcare solutions refers to projects, such as the Meadowview Health Center, which provides medical care on a sliding scale and also offers programs which strengthen the community.
Our presentation was not just for the Appalachian Regional Commission, but for other schools throughout the Appalachian Region. From New York to Georgia, several students presented research and recommendations focused on development in Appalachia. Not only did we learn from their presentations, we also learned their perspectives on Appalachia. Some projects focused on new avenues for economic development, while others were about heritage preservation and community building.
I am grateful for the program we have at Emory & Henry because it focuses on all of these things through the day-to-day celebration of our place in the world.