Making art + media in the mountains since 1969.
The film workshop that started it all taught young people in Whitesburg, Kentucky how to tell stories with cameras, audio recorders, and a “portable video machine” at the hands of an instructor who was still quite young himself.
From our very inception, Appalshop has been youth-led and youth-driven, and we continue that legacy today by welcoming and empowering young people into every aspect of our organization.
We have volunteer DJs under the age of 20, college-aged interns organizing our annual music festival and learning from our professional archivists, and people of every age joining the work with our partners in the Letcher County Culture Hub.
We also have programming specifically geared to develop young people’s skills, hone their leadership, and broaden their impact.
Appalshop believes in letting people tell their own stories, and that includes young people. Almost 20 years after the first films at Appalshop were made by young people who were participating in a community film workshop, we officially founded our Appalachian Media Institute (AMI) in 1988 for Appalachian youth.
Using the technological and artistic resources at Appalshop to learn media production skills, the centerpiece of AMI’s program is our annual Summer Documentary Institute. Young people aged 14-22 produce finished documentaries in just 8 weeks on subjects ranging from the opioid epidemic to LGBTQ+ experiences to the experience of getting “the talk” from your grandparents. Collectively, AMI films provide a unique snapshot of youth perspectives on central Appalachia over a period of 30 years.
AMI helps young people use media to ask — and begin to answer — critical questions about themselves and their communities. We intentionally position youth as initiators of dialogue and social action around crucial community issues, and we help them to see themselves that way, too.
We foster positive attachments to Appalachia and Appalachian traditions, even as their exposure to media pushes our young people to see themselves as part of an interconnected world. Indeed, with 80 percent of our AMI interns moving from our program into higher education, and with AMI serving as an incubator for regional initiatives such as The Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project (STAY), we know our program’s impact extends even beyond filmmaking itself.
Our young filmmakers’ work has been featured by
and recognized with the Coming Up Taller Award, presented by Hillary Clinton. Over 1,200 young people have passed through AMI.
We work with young people and health advocates in ten different Eastern Kentucky counties to ensure young people have access to the full range of reproductive health services and contraceptive methods. Called All Access EKY, the program combines storytelling, media making, clinical training, and community outreach.
Since All Access EKY began in 2017, we’ve already produced more than two dozen media pieces. They range from portrait-driven documentaries — “I Know My Body,” “You Don’t Have to Rush,” or “Times Have Changed” — to informational explainers like “Let’s LARC About It” or “What Is Consent?”
At the core of All Access EKY’s structure is an engaged advisory board of healthcare workers, policy advocates and leaders from our ten county service area who work directly with our youth producers to create a model of change that’s intergenerational and regionally specific. Appalshop's Appalachian Media Institute and Community Media Initiative coordinate All Access EKY in partnership with the Kentucky Health Justice Network and Power to Decide, the campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
Our after-school Appalachian music program, Passing the Pick and Bow, puts banjos, fiddles, guitars and mandolins in the hands of nearly 100 students each year. It’s free, year-round, and part of Appalshop’s broader mission to foster pride and connection to Appalachian arts and culture.
Pick and Bow is often the only music education that our local children and teens get. Each semester begins with an assembly performance by our eight instructors in schools where the program operates. After lessons from traditional master musicians for the duration of the school year, it’s students’ turn to perform at the end of the semester.
Appalshop started Pick and Bow in Letcher County in 2003, then expanded it to Knott County in 2016 with the Hindman Settlement School and again to Floyd County in 2018 with South Arts. Pick and Bow is part of WMMT’s commitment to old-time and traditional music, and the program is just one way we’re working to pass on our Appalachian heritage to younger generations.