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A sampling of folklife and cultural tourism projects in the U.S.
Case Study: Kentucky Route 23 Heritage Corridor Project
Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Arts Council
Bob Gates, Director of the Kentucky Folklife Program at the Kentucky Historical Society, and Chris Harp, Community Arts Director at the Kentucky Arts Council, have been instrumental in the development of a cultural heritage area composed of nine counties adjacent to Kentucky Route 23. The state tourism department had already designated this route, which passes by the homeplaces of many country music stars such as Loretta Lynn, the Judds, and Ricky Scaggs, as "the Country Music Highway." However, interpretation along this route had been limited primarily to highway signs at the entry to each county noting which stars were born there. Community groups in the region were interested in deepening this interpretation, as Gates says, "getting past just looking at the stars to look at the culture that grew this musical tradition and all the cultural groups in this area."
Gates and Harp, who work together on most cultural heritage tourism projects, were inspired by folklorist Kathleen Mundell's work in Maine with cultural surveys and cultural planning processes. They initiated several projects in Kentucky using folklorists to help communities conduct cultural resource surveys as a base for community arts planning and cultural heritage tourism. The counties in the Route 23 area expressed a strong interest in developing cultural heritage tourism projects. Gates has been interested in piloting a project targeting a region rather than a county within the 120-county state to begin to foster regional initiatives.
The state tourism cabinet initiated involvement in the project, and the Kentucky Heritage Council, an agency of the Education, Arts and Humanities Cabinet, organized a familiarity tour of the region. The only agencies to pick up the project were the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Folklife Program.
In part because this area did not have many local arts councils and was thus underserved, the Kentucky Arts Council was able to fund two pilot programs in the region. One program employed four folklorists to work in two counties, and another program helped organize local arts agencies in most counties. A series of visioning meetings at a central location were held; those attending included tourism officials, arts administrators, major arts presenters, county extension officers, and social action organization staff. These meetings helped to "expand the notion of what arts and culture are in the area."
Judy Sizemore, an area resident and community organizer, was hired to develop a local infrastructure to support cultural heritage tourism efforts, and she developed a Highway 23 Network of individuals and organizations interested in heritage and culture. The original Country Music Highway Committee eventually organized into the Highway 23 Task Force and continues to work with the local network of local arts agencies on developing cultural heritage tourism projects. Sizemore continues to work as a regional coordinator for the Kentucky Arts Council, helping the recently formed arts councils in this region to develop programs.
One of the first efforts undertaken was to develop a searchable database of local people, places, and events in Microsoft Access. All types of community artists, not just traditional artists, were included in this database; cultural heritage points of interest and natural assets were included as well. The database was devised in an open format so that additions made to copies used locally could be downloaded to a master file and then added to all copies through synchronization.
Gates has developed a plan for a driving tour that would involve three different loops, using Route 23 as the spine. He is currently waiting to hear about funding for this tour through the T-21 grant category of the U.S. Department of Transportation (formerly named "ISTEA"-the Inter-modal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act). Kentucky 's Millennium Legacy Trail, the Pine Mountain Trail, runs close to Route 23. Additionally, the Kentucky Arts Council is pursuing a small grant through the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies to explore ways in which the Pine Mountain Trail and Route 23 initiatives can be linked.
Folklorists have also been involved in the development of other Kentucky heritage corridors, including the Louisville-Nashville Turnpike Corridor and the Appalachian Heritage Highways Corridor. The L&N Turnpike has been established through state rather than grassroots channels and thus the connections with local cultures have not been strong. On the other hand, the AHH Corridor project began as a grassroots offshoot of the Route 23 Corridor and is linked to the development of a legislatively supported Gateway Artisans Center, slated for completion in 2003.
Looking toward the future, Gates would like to see more cultural heritage tourism projects develop in Kentucky, but he sees that more cultural surveys around the state will be needed first to uncover local resources. He would like to develop a program in which community scholars are doing this research, but would like to first establish a network of folklorists in different regions of the state who would be able to provide these community scholars with training, expertise and advice as needed.
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