‘Not a building.’ Kentucky Theatre hosts benefit event for Appalshop in wake of flooding


Rayleigh Deaton

The Kentucky Theatre hosts “And The Creek Rose,” a fundraising event benefiting Appalshop and the Appalachian Media Institution (AMI) on Sept. 16, 2022, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Rayleigh Deaton | Kentucky Kernel

Rayleigh Deaton, Editor-in-Chief

The Kentucky Theatre hosted “And The Creek Rose,” a fundraising event benefiting Appalshop and the Appalachian Media Institution (AMI).

Held on Sept. 16, the evening featured local musicians, a reading by Silas House and the premiere of the 2022 AMI films.

Sponsored by local supporters like 21C, WRFL, Kentucky Rural Urban Exchange and UK’s College of Communication and Information, 100% of the ticket sales went to support Appalshop and AMI’s relief efforts.

In the wake of the devastating floods in July, businesses, homes and structures across Eastern Kentucky were left with widespread destruction. Kentuckians had to pick up the pieces of their lives, muddied and damaged.

Appalshop and AMI were no exception.

The media, arts and entertainment center Appalshop is headquartered in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Since its birth in 1969, Appalshop has been dedicated to helping Eastern Kentuckians tell their stories through film, radio and theater. Its film workshop, AMI, has introduced more than 1,200 young Appalachians to media production, according to Appalshop’s website.

One AMI alum, Willa Johnson, is now director of films at Appalshop. She said the goal is to encourage young filmmakers to document Appalachia and its complex issues without a “stereotypical or romanticized lens.”

The program welcomes eight to 12 young people aged 14-22 each summer and teaches them to shoot, edit and produce a film on a topic of their choosing.

In July 2022, the newest AMI cohort was in the middle of filming and editing its films in preparation for a screening on July 29, an event which is the culmination of the eight-week program held at Appalshop’s headquarters.

The morning of July 28, a flash flood caused by record-breaking rainfall swept through Appalachia, claiming lives and destroying buildings. The renovated warehouse that Appalshop calls home was flooded with six feet of water, endangering the archive that goes back decades.

“You can imagine how devastated (the AMI cohort) were when they found that the building that they’ve been working in for eight weeks was now underwater, and their films gone,” Jessica Shelton, director of AMI, said.

Since then, Appalshop employees and volunteers from around the country have worked to salvage and restore what they can, putting rolls of film and video on freezer and refrigerator trucks to be taken to laboratories and digitized.

Shelton said Appalshop’s archive contained around 24,000 items, from photos and papers to films and videos, making the project a large undertaking.

“We’re definitely going to lose some, but hopefully … we’re saving as much as possible,” Shelton said.

Two complete 2022 AMI films and one partial one were salvaged and able to be shown for the first time. Offering Appalachian perspectives on artists and identity, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and gaming/Dungeons and Dragons, the three films all included thanks to Eric VanHoose, Appalshop’s systems administrator, for his work in preserving the footage.

The event also included a reading by writer and Kentucky native Silas House documenting the aftermath of the flood for “Garden & Gun” magazine.

“So many are in the depths of the worst kinds of grief,” House said, reading from his article. “You can feel it … when you see people living in tents and shelters. When you see children trying to play when they know their family has lost everything they own.”

Local musicians Daniel Martin Moore and Wayne Graham played original songs for the audience in a uniquely intimate setting, situated in a corner of the stage with all of the house lights up.

The evening concluded with a showing of “Buffalo Creek Revisited,” an Appalshop film from 1984 documenting the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood that devastated Eastern Kentucky and bore a resemblance to the flooding from July 2022.

Johnson called the recent events a “challenging time for Appalshop,” but she still offered hope for the organization, and Eastern Kentucky as a whole.

“It’s one of those things where you realize you’re not a building, and you realize that the work really truly matters in the community,” Johnson said. “And so, while it may be difficult, it may be challenging, it’s also reassuring and reinvigorating to help us remember the root of what we’re here for.”