The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

18 Gipe, Mullinax, Stanley, & Turpin

at that very question, and I started with my master’s thesis on the Berlin Dada Movement in Germany around the turn of the twentieth century, around World War I, and the kind of art that they were trying to put forward to effect change and get people thinking. I’ve been examining these questions for a long time. But before returning to graduate school to work on a doctorate in sociology at the University of Kentucky, I worked at Appalshop for about ten years as the director of the Appalachian Media Institute, which is a current program that works with high school students and some community college-age students, documenting social issues in eastern Kentucky communities with both audio documentary and video documentary. But the work I did there with young people in eastern Kentucky, that really grounded me in concerns and practical realities facing the people in this challenging and inspiring place. They documented the social issues that were important to them but also to their neighbors— neighbors from across class, age, race, and sexuality. I’m one of those people who came to the region from the outside, “off,” but I grew up in rural southeastern Illinois; so there’s a lot of connection that I really see to this place, and I definitely consider this place to be part of my home. In 2007, I started a qualitative research study of Higher Ground, the project that Robert and so many others have been engaged with. And in that work, on this community-based arts project, I interviewed a wide range of participants about their involvement in the project. I attended rehearsals and performances. I traveled with the group to conferences and meetings; I spoke with participating artists such as Jo Carson, who was mentioned earlier, and Gurney Norman and Herb E. Smith, whom Robert and I have worked with about community-based arts. And one of those arts projects was a program that Robert was very involved with, called “Where Art Meets Ed,” which was held at the Hazel Green Academy in Wolfe County for a number of years, and Tom Hansel, whom Pat Beaver has worked with, was also very involved in that work. I spoke with all of these people about their involvement and the approaches to the work and the goals for the work. And it’s interesting when I describe my research on Higher Ground and community-based art—I often get a response from students, as well as from other faculty members and colleagues, about how amazing my research is, and I always have to immediately say, “The work is amazing.” I’m very honored to be able to document it and to talk about it. My comments today will address the project Higher

Ground as a whole, as social activism and as a mix of artistic mediums from doodling to performance, photography, mosaics, visual art, public art, original music production, as well as oral history, research, adult education, connections to other communities and networks, event planning, and mentoring, just to name a very surface skim of the many activities. And I will bring sociology to my discussion of this work, and I’m specifically going to examine how a few conceptual tools developed in the subfield of Social Movement Studies within sociology can be helpful for understanding the power and challenges of this type of social activism, art as social activism. Interestingly, I would say that equally, if not in greater parts, the learning goes the other way, occurs through mutual informing, where the field learns from the work that groups like Higher Ground are doing. I think that there is a mutual informing going on; and in the next few minutes, I’m going to talk about three aspects of Higher Ground social activism. First of all, I would like to engage in a general examination/discussion of Higher Ground through a social movement lens and then just briefly throw out some questions that the Higher Ground process has raised for me, and I think the field of Social Movement Studies and democracy generally. I would also like to briefly discuss challenges I see for Higher Ground. Through a social movement lens, what can we learn from Higher Ground and vice versa? It’s clear that the project leaders have been influenced and implement lessons learned from past and current activism, including the struggles for civil rights, for women’s rights, and by historical models of key cultural organizations, such as the Highlander Research and Educations Center, Appalshop, of course, and the Appalachian Teacher’s Network. In addition, cultural practices provide influence: the Mennonite service tradition, the musical directive of Ann Schertz, and the legacy of activists such as Bob Moses and Helen Lewis. In addition to these movement influences, Higher Ground and the leadership instituted a basic movement practice of clearly defining for themselves and others what they were standing for early on. For example, in their initial grant proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation’s PACT grant act project, the coalition of community college students and their teachers who launched Higher Ground stated what social movement theorists describe as their “mobilizing grievances”: the factors, conditions, and events that deeply arouse people into taking collective action to change a social situation. What brings people together to act in a way that they normally wouldn’t, but they feel

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