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Students Present Work at Appalachian Regional Commission Conference in Washington

Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, presents Appalachian professor Tom Hansell with a 2012-13 Appalachian Teaching Fellows award. Standing with Hansell are, from left, students Joni Ray, Nick Smith, Ashley Thacker, Shady Kimzey, Alix Brewer, Rebecca Lamaire and Brandon Norris. Photo courtesy of Tom Hansell

Dec. 11, 2012. WASHINGTON — Seven Appalachian State University students involved in developing two public art sites for a local rural community recently presented their work to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in Washington, D.C.

They participated in the annual conference of the ARC’s Appalachian Teaching Project. At the conference their faculty advisor, Tom Hansell, was also designated one of ARC’s 2012-13 Appalachian Teaching Fellows for his work with them on their local project.

The Appalachian Teaching Project offers students an opportunity to conduct active community-based research on their campuses, led by the Consortium of Appalachian Centers and Institutes. The consortium supports and encourages student research and interaction among 15 campuses in 11 Appalachian states and their constituent communities.

In 2009, Elk Knob Community Heritage Organization (EKCHO) partnered with the Watauga Arts Council to create a public art plan for the Elk Knob Community. The plan outlined a series of site-specific works. EKCHO and its allies wanted to use public artworks to promote sustainable development of the communities surrounding the Elk Knob State Park and stimulate people’s curiosity related to the culture, history and natural world on and around Elk Knob. 

This fall, EKCHO partnered with the class of 12 Honors College students at Appalachian to start making the art plan a reality. They were assisted by Hansell, an assistant professor in the Appalachian studies program. 

The project involved two pieces: an iron tree on the Meat Camp side of Elk Knob and a mural on the Pottertown side of the mountain. The students worked with community members to ensure that the art is deeply connected to the people and places surrounding the Elk Knob State Park. The class also developed signage and a publicity plan for the project. 

Materials and labor were donated by Watauga Building Supply and Zachary David Smith-Johnson.

“The project was such an awesome and unique experience,” said Shady Kimzey, a junior psychology major. “It was an honor to be able to be a part of preserving the beauty of the natural and social aspects of Elk Knob.”

In addition, the students planned an “art raising” event on Nov. 10 for the community to share in the experience of installing these new public artworks. Local community members created a border of hand prints on the mural, and made stepping stones with local materials to surround the iron tree.   After the event, the iron tree was installed at 1401 Meat Camp Rd., and the mural was installed on the Old Eller Store on South Road in Pottertown.

“I was extremely impressed with the leadership exhibited by these students throughout this project.  They worked intensely with the Elk Knob Community Heritage Organization to design art work that reflected the local community,” said Hansell.  “I could not be prouder of the work this class has completed this semester.”

Created by the U.S. Congress, the Appalachian Regional Commission is a partnership between the federal government and the governors of the 13 Appalachian states designed to improve economic opportunities throughout the region. Each year ARC provides funding for several hundred projects in business development, education and job training, telecommunications, infrastructure, community development, housing and transportation.