The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

20 Gipe, Mullinax, Stanley, & Turpin

raises for me. And we’ll have an opportunity to see some of their work later on this evening. First of all, what does it mean to be political? How do cultural resistance efforts such as Higher Ground stretch our conceptions of politics, of social movements, and of democracy? Are they organized differently from movements that rely on traditional contentious politics or that are identity-based? What are the roles of the leadership of the participants? What does it mean for these movements and movement organizations to be successful? And how would they define it versus how would somebody else define it, such as those people in New York, for example, that we talked about this morning? And how does the process of collective place based art production influence definitions of success, especially if the goal is to be ongoing? To me, this is one of the most amazing things about Higher Ground—it’s not meant to stop. It’s meant to go on and to become part of the community, ongoing and ever-evolving. And two more questions, how can the alternative visions of being in community and in place created and promoted by these forms of cultural activism be enacted both locally but also on broader scales? And I think that’s one of the questions that Transforming Places , the book I referenced earlier, really tries to address or bring out. Lastly, what challenges do these social change projects face? Those challenges for Higher Ground are what I want to talk about in conclusion. I think that Higher Ground definitely has a charismatic leader, many charismatic leaders, and one in particular is sitting up here at the front of the room. And then it also has relied upon a strong supportive community institution in the form of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC). When we look at this last point, the college is a form of support for the project. The project really relies on this evolutionary approach; it is long-term, but it is also experimental and responding to opportunities that present themselves that you/those involved cannot predict. You don’t really know where you’re going. It’s this amorphous kind of thing that is multifaceted, that’s going in all directions at once, bringing in new people. It’s this amazing process. SKCTC has served as an infrastructure—an enduring institution, that provides underpinning infrastructure materials: buildings, programs, audiences, funding support in the form of a fiscal agent, and personnel. One of the things I’d like to point out is that I see these SKCTC staff members such as Robert, such as music professor Ann Schertz, sociology professor Roy Silver, folklore professor Theresa Osborne, as really

transforming, extending their positions as teachers and as mentors into cultural work. Although this institutional support is really valuable, it’s also a vulnerability because there are factors that participants cannot control. One of them is the political situation: what’s happening in Frankfort, what’s happening with the larger community college system, what’s happening nationally with community college funding, etc. Then, also, there are administration changes. The last point I’ll make is that Higher Ground also faces vulnerabilities in terms of leadership. Robert has pushed me to be critical of Higher Ground, and I’m pretty glowing in my analysis partly because my connection runs so deep to the work. But he embodies what sociologist Max Weber defines as charismatic leadership. He’s a classic example, and a movement leader with charismatic leadership is a figure who’s able to have three things. One, initially, the leader can clearly define a current situation as problematic. You can define something as a mobilizing grievance. In addition, the leader is about to articulate an understandable alternative: here’s a problem; here’s what we could do. Art has always been for Robert one of those things. Lastly, the leader is able to convince followers to implement or attempt to implement the alternative. Higher Ground’s longevity is, in part, a testament to Robert’s charismatic authority, again, with others in support. But while supported by these others, his encouragement, framing, challenging character, and connections to networks of resources are front and center to Higher Ground. The vulnerability of charismatic leadership is the fact that it is imbued in a person with finite energy, time, and longevity. The cautionary lesson learned from other movements of spreading out leadership is being heeded by Higher Ground in a number of ways. There’s an attempt to develop the capacity of others in the community, especially of young people in the community. However, we still need to get more young people involved. For instance, students directed, choregraphed, and wrote content for a recent production. The youth-led Crawdad Spring Music Festival, the recent youth summit It’s Good to be Young in the Mountains (IG2BYITM), and a recent effort to renovate a storefront for youth free space in Cumberland all affirm this leadership challenge initiative. Ultimately, this is really an amazing social movement work. But I often get the question, “So what? What does that do? How can art really do something that is long term and that is impactful?” I want to end with a quote by artist activist Lucy Lippard, who in talking about the power of

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