I had the good fortune today of sitting in on a presentation – actually two – made to the Virginia Writers Club in Abingdon, VA about the arts which are now rising in Appalachia.
The first presentation was by Todd Christensen, whose vision has led to the establishment and construction of The Heartwood: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Gateway. Heartwood lives in an all-new building in Abingdon, a home for the work of artisans of all ilks, including masters of clay, wood, fiber, glass, and metal. Heartwood is more than a showcase for these things, though; it's also about Appalachian culture as expressed in fiction, memoir, poetry, and song.
Appalachia, Todd reminds us, is no longer centered about coal mining and tobacco. Those things are still around, but they're not drivers for the region's prosperity that they once were. The region's vitality now springs from the minds of artists and the hands of artisans for the entire Southeast – if not the whole nation – to experience.
The tandem to Todd's presentation was given by Richard Rose, Producing Artistic Director for Abingdon's Barter Theatre. Besides producing the most famous stage dramas – Cabaret, The Glass Menagerie, and A Christmas Carol – Barter is home to new works by the best new playwrights, and has slowly grown an international reputation.
If you still envision Appalachia as squalor, mined-out mountains, and tobacco grown in hardscrabble conditions, Todd and Rick will be quick to point out the new Appalachia – alive with art and craftwork, now rising as high as the Appalachians, which along with Russia's Urals, are the oldest mountains on earth.