Create Your State tour coming to Elkins

ELKINS — The Mountain Arts District and the communities of North Central West Virginia have been selected to be one of five West Virginia communities to host the Create Your State Tour in March.

CYS is a multi-media performance, educational presentation and workshop that inspires and empowers creative community revitalization and development. The program will include all of North Central West Virginia and organizers hope to encourage everyone in the five-county area of Barbour, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker and Upshur counties to look beyond their own city/county limits and envision the entire region as a cooperative arts destination.

Anyone is welcome to come to the show and workshop from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday at The Old Brick Playhouse in Downtown Elkins, which will provide a full program of immersive experiential learning and planning for leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, students and other involved citizens. Other spring tour stops include Wyoming County, Beckley, Morgantown and Montgomery.

All shows are free of charge and open to the public. The event is taking place with support from the Tucker Community Foundation.

The presentation, hosted by The Mountain Arts District, tells the inspiring story of arts-driven community transformation in Princeton, 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 an arts 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 North Central West Virginia 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, webinars and more. And they will receive ongoing guidance from the Create Your State founders to execute community projects and plant new creative capital in North Central West Virginia.

Anyone is welcome to attend and become a part of the conversation and projects that will follow.

The downtown area of Princeton is in the midst of a dynamic creative renaissance on its way to becoming a vital regional tourist destination known for its blossoming arts district. Early pioneers and catalysts of this revitalization McKinney and Blankenship began working toward this vision nearly 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 nonprofit 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. It is 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.

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” 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 major grant by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to take the show on the road around West Virginia. Fifteen towns have received the program and are now making great strides towards public art projects, establishment of arts festivals, arts-co-ops and more. Five additional West Virginia towns will participate in the 2018 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.

CYS project manager and presenter McKinney said, “This is a project 10 years 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.”

Greg Puckett, executive director of Community Connections, said, “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, send an email to createyourstatetour@gmail.com or call 304-320-8833.