Interest in the development of economic diversification in eastern Kentucky as a result of the downturn in the coal industry is widespread. The arts have become central to the mission of sustaining a bright future in regions of the Commonwealth where coal is mined.
As elected officials, policymakers, and economic and community developers explore opportunities to attract new industries that would lead to meaningful job creation and vibrant communities, there is room at the table for artists, arts organizations, creative entrepreneurs and others to contribute toward solutions. The Kentucky Arts Council, along with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and ArtPlace America, has done significant work in eastern Kentucky in recent years and that work is not going unnoticed.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of many institutions tracking developments related to the eastern Kentucky economy. Eastern Kentucky is included in its service region. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 Reserve Banks that, together with the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., comprise the Federal Reserve System. In addition to its role as the central bank of the United States, the Fed works to support and sustain communities. It conducts research on a wide variety of matters — among them monetary policy, banking supervision and community development — with the aim of delivering answers and advancing conversations. The research can and does impact the region the Bank serves, the national economy and the banking industry in revealing answers regarding inflation and unemployment, among many monetary matters.
The Cleveland Fed is currently publishing a series of articles in its “Forefront” magazine about the transition economy in eastern Kentucky. These articles, in addition to case studies, will be collected and published in print. The most recent article focused on the impact of creative placemaking and arts initiatives taking place right now in the eastern region and the three organizations – again, the arts council, NEA, and ArtPlace – that are involved in the work.
All Kentuckians have a stake in the economic and community welfare of any region or major industry of the state. This is especially true of the coal industry that for decades has benefited the entire Commonwealth by generating significant tax revenue and providing jobs with good wages for Kentuckians who make their homes in the regions where coal is mined – both eastern and western Kentucky.
Kentucky coal production and employment from 1927-2015. Source: Kentucky Coal Facts, 15th edition, prepared by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, the Department for Energy Development and Independence and the Kentucky Coal Association, Aug. 28, 2015.
According to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Kentucky Quarterly Coal Report, employment at coal mines in Kentucky was reduced in the year 2015 by 27.7 percent or 3,218 workers. Reductions in employment include layoffs, furloughs and the temporary idling of coal mines. Unfortunately, the trend continues into 2016. Preliminary data from the 2016 first quarter report showed coal mines further reduced on-site employment by 1,501 workers, or 17.9 percent of their workforce. As of April 1, 2016, an estimated 6,900 people were employed at Kentucky coal mines, which is the lowest level recorded since 1898 when there were an average of 6,399 coal miners.
Can the arts or placemaking initiatives alone solve the issues facing our mining regions or our state? No, to say so would be foolish. But arts and creativity can most definitely be a valuable tool to use to address the issues. There’s plenty of research to back that statement including Kentucky-specific data and case studies released in the arts council’s Kentucky Creative Industry Report.
Information in the report supports the ideas that arts and culture are vital to community and economic development and invigoration. According to the report, the creative industry thrives in the areas of Kentucky where it is found and growth is inevitable if support is given to those who work in the industry. In 2013, the creative industry and its supply chains employed 108,500 people and accounted for $1.9 billion in earnings. The top needs of artists and creative entrepreneurs working in the industry mainly fall under the category of business training, according to a survey conducted for the report. Therefore, as the state arts agency, the arts council truly is the agency in the Commonwealth that is properly situated to address these issues. The arts council wants to do its part to support and grow the creative industry and the state has multiple resources to do so. We’re working hard to make connections for artists and creative entrepreneurs to put them in touch with the vast array of technical assistance providers in the state who can assist them directly.
The Kentucky Arts Council has initiated several projects in eastern Kentucky in the last few years to assist in efforts to diversify the economy and generate community development and will continue to do so. Those projects include:
- A placemaking conference in Pikeville the day following the inaugural Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit.
- Partnership with MACED and Hazard Community and Technical College to offer Kentucky’s first Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program to residents in the Promise Zone and surrounding area. (Etsy is a global online marketplace for handmade goods.)
- Partnerships with entities in Johnson, Bell and Rowan counties to offer workshops to help artists and craftspeople get started selling on Etsy.
- Partnership with MACED, Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center, and Berea Tourism to offer the Kauffman Foundation’s FasTrac NewVenture and GrowthVenture small business development courses that graduated 25 participants.
- Awarding five $8,000 Arts Access Assistance grants to counties in the Appalachian Regional Commission service area to develop arts programming and projects.
- Work with communities that have received National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grants and those who have received funding from ArtPlace America.
- Responding to requests for presentations, training, technical assistance and general consultations and information about the arts council for communities and individuals, including elected officials, who want to explore how arts and culture can be an economic driver in the region.
It’s always a compliment to be recognized by an institution such as the Federal Reserve. We’re excited to see creative placemaking and the arts considered by the Fed as an important component of community and economic development and an agent for progress and growth in eastern Kentucky. This recognition reinforces and lends credence to the arts council’s work and mission, and further assists us in fostering partnerships with sectors that might not be familiar with the array of positive outcomes associated with the creative industry.
You can read the first two “Forefront” articles on the Fed’s website. The first article, by Matt Klesta, examines the local impact on the decline in coal in eastern Kentucky. The second article, by Bonnie Blankenship, examines the changing economy and the role the arts and creative placemaking are playing in diversification efforts there. For more information about the Fed, visit https://www.clevelandfed.org/.
Emily B. Moses
Creative Industry Manager