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New Martinsville To Host Tour

By Staff | Apr 24, 2019

Pictured is the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce.

Five West Virginia communities have been selected to host the Create Your State Tour in May. CYS is a multi-media music performance, educational presentation and workshop that inspires and empowers creative community revitalization and development through the arts. The towns were selected based on their interest, capacity, drive, and need for this type of development. Anyone from around the state and region is welcome to attend the shows and workshops in Moorefield, Philippi, Kingwood, New Martinsville and West Huntington May 13-17 from 6:30-9:30 p.m., which will provide a full program of immersive experiential learning and planning for leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, students and other involved citizens. The event is free of charge and open to the public.

The presentation tells the inspiring story of arts-driven community transformation in Princeton, West Virginia through the eyes of artists and cultural entrepreneurs Lori McKinney and Robert Blankenship. The arts are reigniting their once abandoned downtown with creative capital, reclaiming it as a cultural district that is increasingly drawing new business and tourism. Participants will gain skills, tools, and on-the-ground contacts to spark positive change and cultivate a similar scene in these communities and they will be invited to take advantage of ongoing support-resources, contacts, mentorship-after the workshop as they carry out arts-based community development projects.

The workshop features original music, visual projections and a compelling exchange about how the arts, creativity and an out-of-the-box approach can establish a creative scene that redefines and reinvigorates a community. Participants will have access to a web portal with step-by-step instructional toolkits, video shorts, and more. And they will receive ongoing guidance from the Create Your State (CYS) founders to execute community projects and plant new creative capital in their communities.

Anyone from around the state and region is welcome to attend and become a part of the conversation. The programs will take place at Moorefield High School on May 13, Wanderlust Coffeehouse and Wine Lounge in Philippi on May 14, Preston Community Arts Center in Kingwood on May 15, Lincoln Theater in New Martinsville on May 16, and Alias14W in West Huntington on May 17 from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. Call 304-320-8833 with questions. The program is free and open to the public.

More about the Create Your State Tour:

The downtown area of Princeton, West Virginia is in the midst of a dynamic creative renaissance on its way to becoming a vital regional tourist destination known for its blossoming cultural district, now known as “Mercer Street Grassroots District.” Early pioneers and catalysts of this revitalization Lori McKinney and Robert Blankenship began working toward this vision over a decade ago when they established the RiffRaff Arts Collective in the heart of downtown, which was once a dismal and mostly abandoned block. Featuring an art gallery, artist studios, performance venues, a recording studio, a music school, and more, this vibrant collective has brought color and life to a turn-of-the-century structure and its surrounding neighborhood. Over the years, partnerships with local government and universities, local non-profit Community Connections, the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, volunteers and more, have amplified their work and sparked a sweeping movement to renovate Mercer Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, now home to many new business and community-building celebratory events such as an annual arts parade and various holiday-themed street parties including the “Downtown Countdown,” a New Year’s Eve ball drop a la NYC’s Times Square. Downtown Princeton once again has a thriving pulse!

Since 2012, McKinney and Blankenship, along with their music ensemble Option 22, have been traveling around the region to leadership conferences, entrepreneurship summits, and places of education to present a multimedia production called “Create Your State” (CYS) that inspires citizens with their story of arts-based community revitalization and empowers other civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and creatives with tools to transform their environment and boost their local economy. Now teamed with Community Connections, The Create Your State Tour was awarded a grant by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to take the show on the road around West Virginia. Twenty towns have already received the program and are now making great strides towards public art projects, establishment of arts festivals, arts-co-ops and more. Five additional WV towns will participate in the 2019 spring tour based on their interest, drive, and need for this type of development.

The CYS program features live music, visuals, and a compelling exchange about the arts-centric revitalization of Princeton, providing inspiration and insight for the replication of this work. The music of Option 22 is full of hope and uplifting messages. The visuals-both video and still shots-are colorful and impactful, reflecting on building renovation, arts events, public works of art, parades, community garden creation, public space beautification, and more. The program is a stage show complete with professional sound and lighting, which creates an exciting, engaging setting for experiential learning. The web portal createyourstate.org will be full of information, step-by-step instructions, webinars, and more, so that communities will have ongoing access to the information and a direct line of communication with the CYS founders. The generous funding provided by Benedum will allow McKinney and Blankenship to further elaborate their existing CYS curriculum, provide richer learning materials to participants, and offer ongoing support and mentorship as development plans get executed in communities throughout the state.

The mission of The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is to encourage human development in West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania through strategically invested resources. The foundation honors Michael and Sarah Benedum’s belief in “helping people help themselves” by creating “opportunities to cultivate the creativity of people and communities.”

CYS project manager and presenter Lori McKinney says, “This is a decade and 1/2 in the making. We have worked so hard for so long and we are incredibly thankful to have this opportunity to contribute to communities around the state, sharing what we’ve learned and inspiring people to transform their environment. The tours in the last couple of years have been impactful, and we have loved providing ongoing coaching to the wonderful teams that are working all around West Virginia. We are extremely grateful to Greg Puckett and Community Connections for all the support they have given us over the years to develop our work, and this opportunity is something we’ve been waiting for-to share what we have learned and give back at a bigger level. Many, many thanks to Community Connections and the Benedum Foundation for enabling this project!”

Greg Puckett, Executive Director of Community Connections says that, “We are exceptionally pleased at this amazing opportunity. Statistics show that when you change the physical design of a community, followed by an infusion of cultural diversity, it provides a vision of hope, innovation, and dedication from the community at large. This hope builds new partnerships and truly changes perception of negative, to overwhelmingly positive.”

For more information about the CYS tour, stay tuned to createyourstate.org, send an e-mail to createyourstatetour@gmail.com, or call 304-320-8833.