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Higher Ground, local community performance project, to expand with grant from ArtPlace

Woman singing on stage during higher ground performance

Higher Ground, a community performance project in Harlan County will expand its efforts to use theater to transform community, thanks to a generous grant from ArtPlace.

For the past decade, a diverse coalition in this rural Appalachian coalfield county has been using local stories, storytellers and music to create art that helps local people celebrate their strengths and address their challenges. With ArtPlace support, the coalition will collaborate with Community Performance International, the University of Kentucky College of Design, and local economic development and tourism efforts to create a new play that will be performed in transformed spaces throughout the county.

ArtPlace is a new national collaboration of 11 major national and regional foundations, six of the nations largest banks, and eight federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, to accelerate creative placemaking across the U.S. To date, ArtPlace has raised almost $50 million to work alongside federal and local governments to transform communities with strategic investments in the arts.

"Across the country, cities and towns are using the arts to help shape their social, physical, and economic characters," said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "The arts are a part of everyday life, and I am thrilled to see yet another example of an arts organization working with city, state, and federal offices to help strengthen and revitalize their communities through the arts. It is wonderful that ArtPlace and its funders have recognized this work and invested in it so generously."

The Higher Ground coalition has already created three plays celebrating Harlans rich coal mining history and musical traditions. The plays involve a cast of 70-90 local residents and use humor and song to ease into hard issues, including drug abuse, domestic violence, race relations, and environmental protection. The project has brought people together and created new space for community dialogue. ArtPlace support will lead to new work and transform underutilized buildings into performance spaces throughout the county.

Our coalitions approach is to make our own art out of our own local history and circumstances, and shine a light on the best of what we are and might be, said Robert Gipe, director of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community amp; Technical College and Higher Ground project coordinator. We hope the new work will expand that approach throughout the county, demonstrating how art and design can help create hopeful places where people want to be.

ArtPlace received almost 2200 letters of inquiry from organizations seeking a portion of the $15.4 million available for grants in this cycle. Inquiries came from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands. The 47 projects selected each take a unique and locally-focused approach to creative placemaking, from the creation of a Jazz and Heritage Center in New Orleans historic Trem neighborhood to generate vibrancy and economic growth for the local community to ARTSIPELAGO, a comprehensive revitalization strategy that combines a number of unconnected arts and cultural initiatives in Eastport, Maine for greater effect.

These projects all exemplify the best in creative placemaking, explained ArtPlaces Carol Coletta. They demonstrates a deep understanding of how smart investments in art, design and culture as part of a larger portfolio of revitalization strategies can change the trajectory of communities and increase economic opportunities for people.

In September, ArtPlace will release a new set of metrics to measure changes over time in the people, activity and real estate value in the communities where ArtPlace has invested with its grants.
Participating foundations include Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Ford Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, The Robina Foundation, The William Penn Foundation and an anonymous donor. In addition to the NEA, federal partners are the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education and Transportation, along with leadership from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council. ArtPlace is also supported by a $12 million loan fund capitalized by six major financial institutions and managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Participating institutions are Bank of America, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Chase, MetLife and Morgan Stanley.

A complete list of this years ArtPlace awards can be found at