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Our Breathitt

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A Community Arts & Health Experience

Our Breathitt is a community arts and health experience that launched in fall 2017, and brings together multiple programmatic elements and artist-led engagements (poetry and writing, music, dance, visual, film, performance, gardening, cooking) at various sites throughout Jackson (Breathitt Co.), Kentucky.  

Our Breathitt takes a different approach to acknowledging and celebrating the community’s history, heritage, and future than in NY Times' Best Seller, Hillbilly Elegy, or other writing that exploits the stereotypes and not the beautiful humanity of such an amazing community. 

We’re a group of artists coordinating with local businesses, healthcare organizations, municipal government, local school systems and universities through IDEAS xLab’s HEAL Community Approach, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.  

IDEAS xLab was co-founded by Theo ‘Alan’ Edmonds, who has eight generations of family history in Breathitt Co. and is excited to be working with community members in the place he calls home. Theo is now an assistant professor with University of Louisville’s School of Public Health & Information Sciences and the Director of the Center for Creative Placehealing. Co-founder and IDEAS xLab CEO Josh Miller has spent extensive time in Breathitt Co. with the Edmonds family and working with artists and community members through Our Breathitt. The lead artist of Our Breathitt is Rae Goodwin, faculty in the School of Art and Visual Studies at the University of Kentucky. In her travels she has met amazing people from Breathitt Co and is thrilled to be a part of such a great place. She has fallen in love with the community of generosity and kindness there. 

Building on the energy and engagement from Spring 2018 with the Breathitt Co. Academic Boosters, and as part of Breathitt County School’s Literacy & Heritage Day on August 31, Our Breathitt brought together five artists to lead writing workshops with k-12 students, who were engaged to write poetry, a short film script, song lyrics and more — all rooted in hope and heritage — taught by artists including Pauletta Hansel, Theo “Alan” Edmonds, Rae Goodwin, Scott Allen, and Jay McCoy. 

Engagements included Hansel working with students at Breathitt Co. High School to write their own poems, while Edmonds had students imagine and author movie-scene scenarios at LBJ Elementary School, and Allen incorporated music and singing into his lesson at Marie Roberts-Caney Elementary. You can read more about the day here.  

Our Breathitt's ongoing elements include: 

  • Artist-led workshops based on traditional Appalachian heritage and traditions (Writing, Music, Mini-documentary creation about place and people) will be used as forums for health promotion, education and screenings with a focus on Heritage and Hope. The workshops are being utilized to create a set of 20+ written pieces from poetry to essays and a contemporary play - that will launch in summer 2019 shared in partnership with local media outlets, including a live event in fall 2019. 

  • Parking Lot design with the University of Kentucky Extension Service Office is a collaborative project with community members and the UK Landscape Architecture Program to design and install an artistically considered space focused on Heritage and Hope. This design includes centrally located raised garden beds for a “Cancer Prevention Cooking Garden”. These beds will be utilized to grow food for the community to use in their gardening and cooking/canning classes, and would contribute to the dialog surrounding cancer prevention through cooking with and eating whole foods. Displaying these gardens on Main Street is a visual reminder to all who live there of the history of farming in the region and its relationship to the community sentiment, “food is love”.  

  • Graduation Embellishments: As a means to recognize the achievements of the students of Breathitt County, we are creating an embellishment for their graduation outfits. These embellishment sashes will be quilted by local artisans in collaboration with high school or middle school students. Each garment worn by a graduate will be a part of a larger quilt. Throughout the ceremony, the embellishments will be configured to reveal a larger quilt that depicts the beautiful mountains around their school and is a symbol of community connection over time to further foster a sense of heritage and pride. 

  • The lives, stories, and heritage of people in Breathitt Co. are inspiring new music from a series of musician-led workshops in the community. This effort is coordinated by musician and music therapist Cheyenne Mize and includes Lead Musicians and community members Scott Allen, Jonathan Chapman, The Handshake Deals (Casey Papendieck, Laura Gregory, and Cory Shenk), and Kate Driskill. The team will combine their own experiences with the ones they will share with community partners such as Nim Henson’s Geriatric Center, The Sapling Center- Jackson, Breathitt County High School, Breathitt County Public Library, and Breathitt County Senior Citizens Center to inspire new and original music. This new body of work will be recorded with the talents of additional Breathitt County musicians, interwoven with written narratives, and performed at community events throughout the year. 

Our Breathitt Stories:

Heritage & Literacy Day: We Are Who We Are
5 artists conducted Heritage & Literacy Workshops with Breathitt Co. Schools as part of Our Breathitt leading into annual Honey Festival in 2018

Our Breathitt Artists:

  • Pauletta Hansel 

  • Rae Goodwin

  • Brent Watts 

  • Jay McCoy 

  • Tom Eblen  

  • Theo Edmonds  

  • Cheyenne Mize 

  • Scott Allen

  • Jonathan Chapman

  • Shaina Naillieux

  • Kate Driskill

  • Jackson Napier

  • The Handshake Deals

Our Breathitt Collaborators and Partners:

  • Breathitt County Schools

  • Jackson City Independent Schools

  • Breathitt County Academic Boosters

  • Riverside Christian School

  • Breathitt County UK Extension Office, Kayla Watts, Reed Graham and their amazing staff

  • Robinson Experiment Station

  • Lees College

  • Ruschelle Hamilton

  • Willie Griffith

  • Arch Sebastian

  • Laura Thompson, Mayor

  • Angie Raleigh

  • Steven Bowling, Director of Breathitt Co. Public Library

  • Clara Gabbard, Queen Bee of the Honey Festival

  • Shaun and Crystal Thatcher

  • Jenny and Teddy Edmonds