Leveraging the power of arts, culture, and the creative industries to frame, seed, and scale innovation in health and wellbeing.


The WORK of Art

Artist Rae Goodwin reflects on Our Breathitt: A Community Arts & Health Experience

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I feel welcomed and at home in Jackson, with the people who have embraced me and lived in Breathitt County, Kentucky for generations. For this I will be forever grateful.

Breathitt County came into my life from many directions, long before I ever came for a visit, all of them beautiful and profound.

There is my friend and fellow artist Anya Liftig. She and I met in Brooklyn in 2013, during the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival and shared a flat in Berlin together during the Month of Performance Art Berlin. We both grew up in Connecticut, but she spent her childhood summers with her Me-Maw and Pa-Paw in Breathitt County.

Then there is Theo Edmonds whose family has been in Breathitt for nine generations. He grew up in a lovely home with a creek in the back-yard and won clogging competitions with his dancing feet. I met Theo in 2010 or so when he was visiting Lexington. We collaborated on performance events and then he attended the School of Art and Visual Studies at UK, where I work, for his MFA in Art Studio.

My third connection to Breathitt before working with IDEAS xLab on Our Breathitt was Karen (a pseudonym), she was an amazing child in the foster care system. She stayed with me for several weekends while I provided respite care for foster families. She loved art and the mountains and never felt at home in Lexington. Karen worked hard with her Me-Maw, foster parents and social worker to come home to Beautiful Breathitt County...this magical place in the hills. We kept in touch for a while, she graduated from high school and went on to college.

When Josh Miller (IDEAS xLab) and Theo Edmonds (now directing University of Louisville’s Center for Creative Placehealing) asked me to join them at Robinson Forest for an urban-rural exchange with youth in 2017, and then afterwards to participate in a long-term arts and health experience supported by the National Endowment for the Arts , I knew I was being called. I had to come to beautiful Breathitt County.

As an artist, I often work with the materials and intentions of intimacy and risk. As a social practice artist I am humbly aware that the precious stories I work with belong to other people and I know it is a huge risk for someone to share with me. Sometimes in the making of this kind of work our stories meld and then together we create new stories. Sometimes community members hear one another share and learn about themselves through the words, images or music of each other. My goal is to encourage participants to take a risk, to recognize their power, to share from their heart and their own experiences. As Our Breathitt has unfolded, I've asked many questions and listened respectfully to the goals and interests of the community. Then and only then can we collectively make art rooted in their joys, sorrows and hopes for their future.

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It is my honor to work with IDEAS xLab, along with artists who were grew up in the area and moved away, community members, artists who live here now and others like me who enter the work with a respectful and collaborative spirit. All of us in this experience are getting to know the cultural heritage and current culture of Breathitt County. This is truly an enriching process. I have read many stories written from people living today and those living here decades past. I like to sit in one of the amazing local restaurants and chat with people nearby or wander into the UK Extension Office and talk to the agents and staff there. In talking and listening I learned about the importance of music, quilting, cooking, gardening and storytelling. These wonderful activities resonate with me and have been the backbone of Our Breathitt . They have become a way for us as artists to work together with community members towards understanding the hope and sense of belonging that already exist in this miraculous place.

I am excited to see how everything comes together through the Our Breathitt Summit this week on October 11-12 in Jackson. Held at the HCTC Lees College Campus, the Summit will bring together the various components of Our Breathitt, including a showcase of music, writing, and art that has been inspired by and created through workshops with students and community members with our participating artists including: Jonathan Chapman, Pauletta Hansel, Scott Allen, Brent Watts, Kate Driskill, Jay McCoy, Theo Edmonds, The Handshake Deals, Shaina Naillieux, Cheyenne Mize and more.

We’ll spend the two days exploring and expanding the role that arts, culture, and heritage play in improving health and increasing economic opportunity, cultural tourism and entrepreneurship in Breathitt County.

On behalf of our collaborative team, I invite you to join us for the Summit, or delve into the work and stories by visiting

With gratitude,

Rae Goodwin

Lead Artist for Our Breathitt: A Community Arts & Health Experience
Professor and Director of Foundations
School of Art and Visual Studies
College of Fine Arts, University of Kentucky