Appalshop: Creative Media Strategies to address Prison and Youth Issues

cory - Posted on 29 April 2010

Whitesburg, Kentucky is home to Appalshop, a unique media and arts organization that has been utilizing media, radio, theater, video, and music to preserve Appalachian culture, and counter-stereotypes by telling their own stories. Appalshop strives to develop effective ways to use media to address the complex issues facing central Appalachia – a declining coal economy, a legacy of environmental damage, high unemployment rates, and poor educational opportunities and attainment.

WMMT "The Voice of the Hillbilly Nation" is a thriving Community Radio Station which plays old-time string music and other traditional Appalachian music, as well as serving as a valuable source for local information. On Monday evenings from 7-10pm, WMMT broadcasts' "Holler to the Hood"- a hip-hop show which also features recorded messages from family members to their loved ones incarcerated in one of the three maximum security prisons in the radio's coverage. Holler to the Hood is just one piece of Thousand Kites, a community-based performance, web, video and radio project centered on the United States prison system. You can learn more about the project and its history in the audio interview above.

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Appalachia is coal country but has increasingly turned to Prison Construction as an economic solution to the lack of jobs in the region, as many of the coal mining companies have left. Thousand Kites started in 1998, as co-hosts of the WMMT’s only hip-hop radio program, Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby received hundreds of letters from inmates recently transferred from distant cities into two new, local SuperMax prisons. The prisoners’ letters described racism and human rights violations, and Szuberla and Kirby responded with artistic projects, including bringing hip-hop artists together with mountain musicians and organizing radio broadcasts for prisoners’ families. The project has expanded nationally with family members participating from all across the country and even the Virgin Islands. They will be coordinating the track “Communication Strategies for Ending the Prison Industrial Complex”
at the Allied Media Conference which will intersect with the Radio Active Track.

We also facilitated a workshop with the Appalachian Media Institute- a youth video production program that was founded in 1988 and since then has trained 600 youth. Together, with the AMI youth we listed the many themes that they focus their videos on. These themes included, Youth, Elders, Historic Places, Poverty, Counter-cultures, Homelesness, and Education. We analyzed how Youth and Poor people are portrayed in the Corporate Media- and how the media that they are producing challenges those stereotypes. Each small group in the workshop presented incredible creative 3-minute radio pieces, that had clear objectives to move their listeners to action.

The goal of the workshop was to invite youth to more actively participate in the Community Correspondents Corps (CCC)- Appalshop's community journalism program. CCC is based on the principle that people have the right to control the development of their own communities through active participation in public dialog.