Kentucky floods have taken over Appalachian historical past

Appalshop since 1969 is a cornerstone of Whitesburg, Ky.’s mission to tell the stories of Appalachian people through art, film, music and more, focusing on their voices. His theater is usually humming with actors portraying regional experiences; community radio broadcasts music and local news; and its rich archive is a vast repository of central Appalachian history.

But on Wednesday, when the organization’s executive director, Alex Gibson, stood inside the building that housed Appalshop for four decades, all he saw was dirt.

Water damage covered the walls of the radio station. Every chair in the newly renovated 150-seat theater was smeared with mud. There were filing cabinets, desks, CDs and loose filmstrips all tangled up. And, perhaps worst of all, much of the content in the Appalshop archives was covered in dirt and trash after that. the devastating floods in the region last week left the building submerged in water.

Mr Gibson said he was most surprised by the “indiscriminate nature with which the water destroyed things”.

“I see things that shouldn’t be together,” Mr Gibson said. “Next to one of our first LPs in 1970. is a banjo built by a master banjo maker covered in dirt.

He added: “We used to have an organized archive.”

Flooding in eastern Kentucky has killed more than three dozen people and left hundreds more homeless. Many still have no power. Even with the loss of life and property, members of the Appalachian community also mourned the loss of the region’s cultural heritage.

“We’re going to try to save everything we can save,” Mr Gibson said. “Obviously it’s emotionally devastating to see such expensive materials just sitting in water and whatever chemical combination is on my shoes right now.”

Mr Gibson and Caroline Rubens, Appalshop’s archivist, work ahead of time with around 50 volunteers. Their goal is to recover what Appalshop estimates to be hundreds of thousands of archival works from a variety of media: films, photographs, crafts, woodwork, musical instruments, magazines, newspapers, posters and personal family archives that have been donated to the group. depicting life in the Appalachian Mountains.

Water rushed through the first floor of the Appalshop building, which it has occupied since 1982. This included a radio station, a theatre, climate-controlled archive storage and some gallery space used for art exhibitions.

When Appalshop first learned of potential flooding last week, the top priority was keeping employees safe. They then mobilized their resources β€” social media, their website and their radio station β€” to get the word out to the Whitesburg community.

The organization’s top priority now is to ensure that the archives are quickly salvaged before mold sets in. It is too early to say how many items can be salvaged, damaged or destroyed, but archivists from nearby colleges came to help with the rescue. Universities in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and the greater Appalachia region.

A part that probably isn’t there anymore “Blanket of the Sun” a stained glass sculpture by local artist Dan Neil Barnes, made up of five interlocking squares that mimic the blankets found throughout the region. It stood behind the Appalshop building and was a popular gathering place for visitors.

“It was a particular pain,” said Meredith Scalas, Appalshop’s director of communications. β€œIt became an iconic part of the building. We’re not sure if there are any pieces of it, but it was glass, so probably not.

Ms Scalas said Appalshop has already recorded floods and climate change and that she “sees a future where we tell this story too”.

After the floods, Appalshop wants to put the community first, Ms. Scalas said, and has raised tens of thousands of dollars. various mutual aid groups. She added that the support of archivists and volunteers is a true mark of the mountain community. She said there was a similar sense of camaraderie afterward tornadoes killed 74 people in the region in December

“Kentuckians show up for each other, we do,” she said.

Ms. Scalas, who grew up in rural Kentucky, said she joined the organization in part to “reconnect with my heritage.” “Appalshop has always been more about making people feel like it’s okay to be proud to be Appalachian,” she added.

However, the building itself has become central to the group’s work throughout the community, hosting art openings, concerts and regular radio programs. Appalshop began as a film workshop in 1969, but has expanded to include photography and literary programs, a theater company, a recording studio, and a community organizer focused on documenting and celebrating Appalachian culture. Appalshop had just finished their annual summer documentary program for young people and had their films to screen during flood week.

Steve Ruth, a volunteer DJ at WMMT 88.7 FM, Appalshop’s community radio station, was looking forward to July 28. would host a bluegrass event, but the tides had other ideas.

“When you go into the radio room and see the situation, it will bring you to your knees,” he said. “There was about five feet of water in that space, I’m sure it looked like an aquarium at one point.”

Mr Ruth said the Whitesburg community was shocked but “accepting the challenge”. He and Appalshop hope to have the radio station back up and running in a temporary location in the city soon.

“It was a gathering place for people interested in the history of the mountains and the history of the region,” he said. “It was a place that’s not one little thing for one small group, people from all walks of life can come and feel good and safe.”

While Appalshop’s full recovery could take months and the fate of much of the building’s contents remains unknown, a sign of hope gave center director Mr. Gibson some joy: Despite more than 20 feet of floodwater, a young apple tree remained. standing with about 30 apples.

“Obviously this tree was completely submerged in the rapids and it still has so many apples and leaves on it,” he said. “I didn’t know an apple was so hard to pick.”

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