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A Thousand Words, a public art installation created by the Athens Photographic Project in partnership with the City of Athens, is located at the Athens City Parking Garage.

Ohio’s Thriving Appalachian Arts and the State’s Investment

In early April the Appalachian Funders Network (AFN) met in Athens, Ohio. Despite our growing presence in Southeast Ohio, AFN was new to me. I was curious about the organization and their service to Ohio’s Appalachian communities, so I drove down to Athens, registered for the conference, and dug in to connect and learn. Let me tell you a bit about my experience.

AFN is 10 years old, and they gather annually to make connections, explore new ways to accelerate the transition of Central Appalachia, analyze on-the-ground efforts, and unite with friends new and old. It has six working groups, organized around arts and culture, downtown revitalization, energy and natural resources, food and agriculture systems, health, and strengthening community capacity. All six areas are vital to Southeast Ohio’s future—and I was proud to see the arts and culture included among these priorities. In addition to the six working groups, there is an Equity Committee and a Philanthropic Engagement Project focused on increasing investment into the Central Appalachian region.

Through AFN, funders convene and connect for learning, analysis, and collaboration. While at AFN, I met new colleagues, struck up some great conversations, and joined the arts and culture working group. We explored the topic of substance abuse, which cuts across the work of so many governmental agencies and nonprofits. As part of AFN’s commitment to increasing public understanding of substance use, we had the opportunity to see Higher Ground, a community arts organization based in Harlan County, Kentucky, perform Needle Work. The play addresses solutions to the drug epidemic, opening hearts and minds to solutions sometimes not embraced by all members in a community. It was powerful, and it was a good thing I had tissues with me.

The AFN gathering was also a source of pride for me as the executive director of your Ohio Arts Council. It was an opportunity to share the arts and cultural assets of Athens and Nelsonville to those from outside the region. We visited Stuart’s Opera House, the Dairy Barn Arts Center, Athens Photographic Project, and Passion Works Studio … to name just a few. As colleagues from North Carolina, Tennessee, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Missouri, and California gathered, it reminded me of how fortunate we are to have such wonderful and talented arts professionals in Ohio’s Appalachian communities. Our treasured arts organizations were truly a great snapshot of what Ohio is for its citizens.

You may be saying, “Okay, Donna, but what has this got to do with me?” At the Ohio Arts Council we make grants in all 88 Ohio counties, which includes our 32 counties with Appalachian designation. So often our Appalachian communities—and other rural communities throughout the state—never seek funding from the resources available to them. We are working every day to make that reality a thing of the past. Residents of Appalachian Ohio should have access to arts and culture and should have opportunities to secure funding through the Ohio Arts Council and other funders. That means, on our end, we should do all we can to create strong partnerships, develop relationships, work together, simplify our grantmaking, streamline our governmental processes, and bring even more resources to the table for our constituents. What’s true of the difficulties in reaching Appalachia are just as true in rural Northwest Ohio, just as true in poor urban and suburban areas—even if our means to reach these constituents differs greatly. Fortunately, we have the resources and knowhow to widen access to the arts across the Buckeye State.

Speaking of resources, let me take a moment to share with you where we are in the state budget process. In March, Governor Mike DeWine unveiled his operating budget proposal for the state for the next two fiscal years. For the Ohio Arts Council, the DeWine Administration proposed General Revenue Appropriations of $29.5 million over the biennium.

As we gather in our homes, communities, and other venues, let’s make sure we are celebrating the value of the arts for all Ohioans. Let’s talk about our successes. Let’s invite our friends, family, and elected officials to performances and art exhibitions, and don’t forget the arts opportunities in our schools (spring musicals, concerts, plays, art exhibitions, poetry readings, etc.). I hope to see you on the stage or in the audience!

Until next time,

Donna S. Collins
Executive Director

Featured photo: A Thousand Words, a public art installation created by the Athens Photographic Project in partnership with the City of Athens, is located at the Athens City Parking Garage. This permanent photo installation features new photos on a biennial basis. Photo courtesy of the Athens Photographic Project.

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