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Appalachian Cultural Center Reels from Historic Flooding

Some of the region’s valuable heritage was also lost in the roaring floodwaters that left dozens of people dead or missing in eastern Kentucky.

Like most of the devastated mountain area around it, Appalshop, a cultural hub known for documenting Appalachian life for the rest of the globe, is cleaning up and evaluating its losses.

Last week, the famed storehouse of Appalachian history and culture in downtown Whitesburg, southeast Kentucky, was severely damaged by record floods on the North Fork of the Kentucky River. After storms soaked or washed away some of Appalshop’s treasures, including records tracing the region’s rich and occasionally traumatic past, some of its losses are probably irreparable.

Alex Gibson, executive director of Appalshop, remarked, “It’s heartbreaking to see our cherished building submerged by flooding.” We will bounce back, but at the moment we are undoubtedly grieving the losses.

Appalshop, which was founded more than 50 years ago in part as a training ground for budding filmmakers, has grown into a diverse company with a goal to improve the area. It has a radio station, theater, art gallery, record label, and community development initiative in addition to its film institution.

But now Appalshop is concentrating on itself. As floodwaters swamped significant sections of the hilly terrain, causing fatalities and extensive destruction, the facility known for educating storytellers found itself involved in one of the largest tales in the area.

According to Appalshop’s communications director, Meredith Scalos, the company is insured and is currently attempting to determine the exact extent of what has been destroyed and what may be salvaged.

Before we know the full extent of the damage, it will probably be a week, she added. “We won’t be rebuilding for a few days or weeks, but for years.”

Its main building’s first level was completely inundated by the quickly rising water. Cleanup teams entered and discovered a heavy layer of mud. Major damage was done to the theater and radio station, according to Scalos. The archives were also harmed. The top two floors escaped unharmed. Additionally, a second Appalshop building was severely damaged.

According to Scalos, the first task was to clean up and evaluate the archives, which contained tens of thousands of objects recording various facets of Appalachian life over the years.

Scalos expressed her concern about the loss of unique artefacts that help explain the history of the area.

Film, pictures, oral histories, music performances, publications, and a lot more are examples of archival materials. The articles covered issues including population trends, labor unrest, politics, religion, and coal mining. A portion of the debris was washed into Whitesburg’s streets.

According to Scalos, Appalshop administrators are in contact with federal emergency officials to find out whether assistance is available. Funding for Appalshop comes from a variety of sources, including significant foundations and private donors. Its businesses have expanded over the years, but its goal has remained the same: to highlight Appalachian traditions and encourage locals’ creativity.

According to Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, which has an office in Whitesburg, it has been at the vanguard of efforts for decades to improve the region’s reputation by showcasing the depth of its history and culture and giving Appalachians a platform to tell their experiences.

According to Davis, a former employee of Appalshop, “over time, Appalshop’s films, plays, and recordings went a great way to reveal the hollowness of the hillbilly caricatures.”

He reflected on his time there and added, “We may be hillbillies, but you’re no better than us. And that showed in the job we did.

Before the films are submitted to film festivals, the youth interns present their documentaries to friends, family, and the local community at that occasion, according to Scalos. “That one is quite heartbreaking.”

The schedule of fall movie screenings that Appalshop had begun to organize has also been postponed.

Appalshop is managing its own crises, but it is still focused on its goals. The institute is attempting to document the flooding for future generations because they recognize how historically significant what transpired over the past several days was.

Scalos stated, “We are documenting as much as we can. Naturally, some of our equipment was lost and cannot be found. It’s much simpler now that we have smartphones, of course. We will undoubtedly consider methods to connect the stories.

Brian Cooper
Brian Cooper
Brian Cooper is a global reporter for TheOptic, focusing on bringing insights and developments for global and local breaking news daily. With almost seven years of experience covering topics from all over the world, Brian strives to make sure you stay up-to-date with what's going on in the world.
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