Emerging Art Leaders of Eastern Kentucky hosted an art advocacy event at CoffeeTree Books in Morehead last Wednesday intended to promote the restoration of funding for the arts set to be cut in Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget.
Approximately 80 locals and Morehead State University students attended the event. They listened to five speakers argue for protecting a state budget for the arts and preserving the local Kentucky Folk Art Center, which is largely dependent on state funding and is expected to close without it.
The speakers of the event professed the value of art and art education to Eastern Kentucky.
Matt Collinsworth, executive director of the Kentucky Folk Art Center, argued for KFAC as an economic boon to the region and the state.
“With a very small staff and a pretty small budget, I think the state, the region and the community gets a lot of bang for their buck out of the Kentucky Folk Art Center,” said Collinsworth. “At the level of economic activity here in Morehead each year, we probably generate about $800,000 in general economic activity.”
“That’s events, tourism, everything else,” Collinsworth added. “Factor in for sales we broker for artists and other things, you’re probably talking about us having an economic impact of $1.3 to $1.4 million annually. That’s a pretty good return for a $200,000 investment.”
Susan Hawkins, part-time art educator at KFAC, also spoke at the event. She discussed how the center reaches out in the community and helps children experience folk art. She recounted a specific program called “Where I Am From” at McBrayer Elementary.
KFAC worked with four teachers and approximately 60 students to write narratives and creates photos about the Appalachian community. The end of this program resulted in an exhibition in the Kentucky Folk Art Center.
“We were able to bring the community together,” said Hawkins. “These kids, some of them had never set foot in a museum before.”
In addition, Hawkins discussed how they provide art lessons to local middle and high school students, helping those students with their high school art credit.
Ashley Gilliam, director of the Rowan County Art Center, spoke on her experience with art in Rowan County.
“There was a job opening at the Rowan County Art Center. I sent my resume from the Dominican Republic, where I was building a water filtration station and latrines,” she recounted. “I laughed when I sent it because I didn’t have a degree, and my selling points were ‘I think people who do art are amazing, even though I cannot draw or paint. I love my community and I love to fundraise and I enjoy helping the art world anyway I can.’ Next thing I know, I’m the director and the dreams of working with art are a reality.“
The event culminated with the signing of post cards to send to state representatives regarding the importance of art funding in Kentucky.
“Beyond the Folk Art Center, I worry that organizations like ours, we are the canaries in the coal mine,” Collinsworth said. “If we go down, that doesn’t portend good things for the rest of the state.”
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