Last updated: July 22. 2014 2:53PM - 350 Views
Coriá Bowen Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

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The largest working group of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative has begun a series of “listening sessions” to get ideas about developing tourism opportunities from Appalachian Kentucky’s arts and heritage.

“Our charge tonight is to pick your brains on what are some big opportunities,” Phil Osborne, chair of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Working Group, said at its first meeting, Tuesday at Ashland’s Paramount Arts Center. “How do we pull everybody together with common denominators to create something that’s lasting?”

The working group, which has 52 members and is looking for more, is one of 10 aiming to improve the overall economy and quality of life for Kentucky’s Appalachian counties.

To make downtowns more attractive to funders and investors, historic buildings should be enhanced, said Bruce Marquis, executive director of the Paramount Arts Center, a restored theater.

“The historic detail still rests under these buildings,” Marquis said. “That encourages more development in a town that encourages tourism. When you restore enough buildings, you qualify as a historic district that invites more funding.”

Marquis mentioned façade grants that could be used for building restorations.

With the meeting site just less than three blocks from the Ohio River, the use of waterfronts as tourist sites was also discussed.

“Anytime you have a waterfront, you have an asset,” said Catrina Vargo, a reporter for The Levisa Lazer, an online newspaper based in Louisa. “Play upon the mountains, art and crafts. We’re totally different than other parts of the state that aren’t that far from us.”

Also during the listening session, participants shared and encouraged each other as they discussed ways to find economic support for their ideas.

“Find something in what you’re providing that benefits that person,” said Mandilyn Hart, executive director of the Center for Appalachian Philanthropy, based in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Vanceburg. “Finding common ground is the only way to be able to have someone give.”

Other ideas included a performing arts trail, a “blue way” tourism system for kayakers, and overall ways to diversity existing infrastructure and the economy –“connecting the dots,” as Hart put it..

“We don’t need brand-new everything,” she said. “We just need to elevate existing things.”

The seven people at the meeting also talked about the importance of looking at other counties’ successes during the process of reshaping the region and using that as a blueprint for their own.

The Tourism, Arts and Heritage Working Group held its second meeting in Morehead Thursday night. Osborne, a Lexington marketing executive and native of Carter County, said participants suggested new ways to promote the arts and reiterated the idea of more use of the region’s waterways.

The group will next meet from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 22, in the Perkins Building at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. The tentative schedule for other listening sessions is July 24 in Jackson, July 29 in Columbia, July 31 in London, Aug. 5 in Pineville and Aug. 7 in Hindman. Four “big ideas brainstorming sessions” are tentatively scheduled Aug. 12 in Pikeville, Aug. 14 at Jamestown, Aug. 19 at Slade and Aug. 21 at Grayson.

For more on the working group, go to http://www.soar-ky.org/soar-committees/trourism-national-resources-arts-heritage/.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is providing independent coverage of SOAR activities with funding from the Rural Policy Research Institute, which is providing SOAR staff support. For more information: Al.Cross@uky.edu.

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