Cultural Heritage and Genuine Wealth in Southwest Virginia
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Type of Work96 p.
ProgramMA in Cultural Sustainability
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SubjectsAppalachian Region -- Economy and society.
Cultural property -- Preservation -- Appalachian Region.
Tourism -- Economic development.
Cultural sustainability -- Capstone (Graduate)
In the 50 years since the declaration of the War on Poverty, Appalachia has seen a multitude of economic and social interventions including the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission, volunteer organizations such as VISTA, ecumenical outreach from a variety of religious organizations, and state and regional governmental and non-profit organizations. Each of these organizations has sought to change some sort of societal issue- unemployment, lack of education, sub-par housing and public works, drug abuse-with varying degrees of success. Some organizations, influenced by the historical work of social scientists, felt that Appalachian cultural heritage was to blame for the dismal situation more than the substantial institutional issues and worked to erase that cultural heritage. In recent years, tourism has become big business in Southwest Virginia, adding over $1.3 billion to the economy of the region in 2012. With unemployment in the region averaging 7.36%, almost 20% of the residents not having completed a high school education, and approximately 18% living at or below the federal poverty line, it would appear that the money earned from the region's cultural heritage is being separated from the people who created that culture. Financial wealth isn't the only consideration for the region's residents. Also important are the maintenance of the buildings and public structures, the environment, the relationships between the residents, and individual self-worth. By using what Mark Anielski terms "Genuine Wealth" this thesis presents case studies of nine Cultural Heritage organizations in Southwest Virginia. Some organizations-Appalachian Arts Center, The Jacksonville Center for the Arts, Chestnut Creek School for the Arts and Birthplace of Country Music Alliance-work mostly within a specific community. Others, such as Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority, Barter Theatre, and Roadside Theatre have a slightly larger footprint but still do not address the entire region as the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission and 'Round the Mountain Artisan Collective do. Instead of believing that cultural heritage is the cause of economic issues in Southwest Virginia, these organization see it as the solution. Most have a major focus on both cultural heritage and eco-tourism as the cornerstones of a creative economy. Although it brings its own complications, tourism is considered the savior of Southwest Virginia. This thesis outlines several problems that make tourism an industry which requires caution and careful planning. However, the issues facing cultural heritage organizations go far beyond the pitfalls of tourism-focusing on tourism rarely addresses the concept of community development. Several of the organizations are entities of the state government, but it is astonishing that almost half of the representatives I spoke with are not originally from Southwest Virginia. The region must finally take steps to address the fact that we are allowing outsiders to define our economy and culture. By taking steps to strengthen our internal voices such as learning to appreciate our cultural heritage, keeping young residents in the region, finding ways to support ourselves, and speaking loudly about what the region needs, we can reduce this outside influence.