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Unwrapping Appalachia’s Gifts

David and Janine Musser, founders of Appalachian Heritage Alliance, are heroes to many in Wolfe and surrounding counties. But the Mussers have their own heroes: the people of eastern Kentucky whose often hidden artistic gifts they have helped bring to light over the past 20 years.

“When we started the organization and said we were going to celebrate the arts that are here, people would say, ‘Well, I kind of don’t do art,’” Janine remembers. “And I would say, ‘Do you quilt?’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, yes.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, that’s art.’ ‘Do you write?’ ‘Yes, I write, and yes, I’m a storyteller, and yes, I’m a musician.’ But there wasn’t the feeling this was really an art.”

Soon, David was teaching the region’s elementary students to play guitar, fiddle, and hammered dulcimer, and Janine was helping youngsters and adults unwrap their gifts for storytelling and writing. She paired experienced quilters and other artisans with young people to share their knowledge and passion.

Appalachian Heritage Alliance, through vital partnerships with the Kentucky Arts Council and numerous other sponsors—including Licking Valley RECC—has brought scores of artists from many places to perform for schoolchildren in eastern Kentucky.

“We always wanted to have a balance of Appalachian artists, musicians, and storytellers with musicians from outside the area, so that our kids could see that what we do in Appalachia is every bit as good, professional, and exciting as people are doing anywhere in the world,” says David.

The Mussers have joined the Wolfe County Alliance for Progress, the Mountain Parkway Corridor, and sculptor Sam McKinney of Elliott County in a campaign to erect a nearly 100-foot-tall Eastern Kentucky Heritage gateway. The monument’s large, sculpted instruments—a guitar, fiddle, and banjo—will have strings that are giant wind harps that will be stirred by breezes.

Those who have seen the fruits of the Mussers’ labors praise the cultural enrichment they are bringing to the region.

Learn more about Appalachian Heritage Alliance online at www.aha-eky.org.

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