The Harlan Tourist and Convention Commission was recently awarded $7,500 through the Appalachian Regional Commission Flex-E-Grant program, which is administered by The Center for Rural Development and the Brushy Fork Institute, to help fund an arts and crafts co-op.
This project lays the groundwork for a co-op of artists and crafters in Harlan County. Once the cooperative is in place, it will be sustained as a nonprofit headed by a board of directors that includes local artists.
Project activities will engage local proficient producers and artists in offering a series of classes for residents and visitors in skills that include: Basket making, chair caning, soap making, quilting, upcycling, painting, crocheting, corn shuck doll crafting, broom making and others.
This project is a collaborative effort of several organizations in partnership with the crafters: Harlan Tourism, the Harlan Center, the Artist Attic, the Mountains Masters committees and the Harlan County Public Library. The Harlan County Public Library will provide space for the co-op in an empty building in the downtown area, where the co-op members will be able to display and sell their work.
The long-term and regional goals of the project include employing the arts to improve and strengthen the community while improving economic development efforts related to tourism and heritage development. The project will also explore filling empty storefronts or other buildings in Harlan County — a continuation of the No Vacancy Project funded by a previous Flex-E-Grant.
The Center for Rural Development and the Brushy Fork Institute worked together to choose projects that align with the goals of the Flex-E Grant Program and support other regional initiatives such as Shaping Our Appalachian Region and the Kentucky Promise Zone. The grants provide a critical resource for communities to plan and implement projects that address both local and regional development efforts.
The 2016 ARC Flex-E-Grants will fund 20 projects totaling $175,000 in grant funds with a minimum of 20 percent matched locally. The grants were awarded in economically distressed counties, as designated by the ARC, including Clay, Estill, Harlan, Knott, Lawrence, Lee, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, McCreary, Metcalfe, Perry, Rockcastle, Russell, Wayne, Whitley and Wolfe counties, plus a regional project that will impact a non-profit economic development agency that services 45 counties in Appalachian Kentucky.
The grants will support focus areas such as seven projects in Promise Zone counties: Clay, Harlan, Letcher, Perry and Whitley.
These southern and eastern Kentucky communities will use the grants to engage local residents in planning processes that explore strategic approaches to community and economic development, and projects that result in assets for tourism, downtown revitalization, youth development and other areas.
The 2016 Flex-E-Grant cycle concludes on Sept. 30. Look for information on future FEG funding opportunities in the fall of this year.