Creative Engagement and a Moral Economy in Appalachia
Caron Atlas' essay on MicroFest: Appalachia focuses on the connections between civic capacity, imagination, and moral economy in Appalachia. Stimulated by the MicroFest workshop on cultural organizing led by the Highlander Center, a key Appalachian institution and gathering place, Atlas reflects on the work of Helen Lewis, activist scholar who is considered the mother of Appalachian studies and her essay, “Rebuilding Communities: A Twelve-Step Recovery Program,” in which Lewis outlines the values and assumptions that must underlie a responsible moral economy. Atlas’ essay draws on examples, primarily from MicroFest, to illustrate Lewis’ twelve steps to community revitalization. Synthesizing her MicroFest experience and her ongoing work, Atlas reflects on questions about the relationship between citizen action, imagination, place-based culture, public policy, and transformative change. Just some of the compelling questions she explores are: What is the relationship between insiders and outsiders in Appalachia, both in a cultural and a social justice context? In a region that birthed the song “Which Side Are You On?” (written during the 1931 coal strike in Harlan County), when does it make sense to work across points of views and politics and when do you need to take a side? How do imaginative ideas and creative methodologies extend conventional modes of civic participation and reframe assumptions about leadership and economy? Caron Atlas draws upon almost a decade of working at Appalshop, the Appalachian cultural center, and her national perspective as a consultant working to support arts and culture as integral to social justice, as well as her leadership with the Arts & Democracy Project and the Naturally Occurring Cultural District Working Group in New York City.