If every community had an Appalshop, we would all be much better at exchanging handshakes and recipes. They are a beacon of decency and forward-thinking in our country’s continued quest for equal human rights. Nick Offerman

Appalshop Staff

Herb E. Smith

Appalshop

Herb E. Smith

Herb E. Smith joined Appalshop in 1969 when it was just a film workshop. He has been documenting the history and culture of the Appalachian region for 50 years, graduating from Whitesburg High in 1970 and studying filmmaking at the newly formed Appalshop, where he still plays an active role. His films document Appalachian traditions, like Unbroken Tradition about potter Jerry Brown, and The Ralph Stanley Story about the acclaimed mountain singer and musician. With his dad working in underground coal mines owned by Bethlehem Steel — and both his grandfathers and brothers spending years in Eastern Kentucky coal mines — his films also deal with environmental and safety concerns of coal mining areas, including coal mining explosions, black lung disease, and pollution of the streams. He’s shown films throughout the country in venues from community centers and union halls to the Museum of Modern Art and the Kennedy Center. International screenings of his work include Paris, Berlin, Rome, Calcutta, Bombay, Chengdu, and Yogyakarta.

Jessica Shelton

Appalshop

Jessica Shelton

Jessica Shelton joined Appalshop as our Development Associate in 2019. Originally from Eastern Kentucky, Jessica graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2015 with a degree in Media Arts. She spent the next four years hopping from city to city, living in Denver, Nashville, and St. Louis, where she worked in advertising and early childhood education. She's happy to be back in Eastern Kentucky and enjoys baking, painting, and hiking in her free time.

Caroline Rubens

Appalshop Archive

Caroline Rubens

Archivist Caroline Rubens joined the Appalshop staff in 2007. She manages Appalshop’s archival holdings, facilitates access to the collections, helps to plan and execute public programming, and participates in fundraising efforts. Rubens holds an MA in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and advocates in various forums for the preservation of independent and community media. She has participated in professional and scholarly conferences, presenting on topics ranging from Appalshop's experiences in establishing an independent regional repository to the creative re-use of archival materials.  She believes that enriching the archival records of historically underrepresented groups encourages new scholarship and understanding, and helps members of a given community to re-envision the future. While a native of northern New Jersey, Rubens is happy to call Eastern Kentucky home. She is, however, still a Mets fan.

Elizabeth Barret

Appalshop Archive

Elizabeth Barret

Elizabeth Barret joined Appalshop in 1973 as a filmmaker. Her work is shaped by the history, culture, and social issues of Appalachia. Barret is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts, Rockefeller Foundation Film/Video/ Multimedia Fellowship, and Kentucky Arts Council’s Al Smith Fellowship in Media Arts. Her self-reflexive documentary exploration and meditation on issues of media representation, Stranger With A Camera (2000), premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast nationally on PBS series P.O.V. Barret is the Director of Appalshop’s Archive and is currently at work on a new film, Portraits & Dreams: Revisited in collaboration with photographer Wendy Ewald. Barret also serves as Director of the Appalshop Archive. 

Alexander Gibson

Appalshop

Alexander Gibson

Alex joined Appalshop in 2014 as our Executive Director. He graduated from Berea College in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and earned his J.D., Doctor of Laws from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2012. Alex also holds certificates in International Comparative Law from Queen Mary at the University of London, England, and in Thai and Southeast Asian Studies from Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Before joining Appalshop, Gibson practiced law within the torts, insurance, and business litigation practice groups at Stites & Harbison, PLLC in Louisville, and in the business litigation group at Ballard, Spahr, Andrews, and Ingersol in Philadelphia. He also served as a federal law clerk for the Honorable Thomas W. Phillips, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, where he assisted in the resolution of multi-million dollar lawsuits, federal criminal trials, and questions of constitutional law concentrating on the First Amendment. Alex has provided pro bono legal services to asylum seekers from central and west Africa; conducted tax workshops in West Philadelphia; and served as part of a delegation that went to serve Mombasa, Kenya, in order to teach constitutional law to women’s rights groups in the wake of Kenyan constitutional reform. He was raised in Jackson County, Kentucky on a tobacco farm and will play anyone in 1-on-1 basketball — as long as his opponent signs an embarrassment release form.

Daryl Royse

Appalshop

Daryl Royse

Daryl Royse joined Appalshop in 2017 as our Financial Director. He is a native of Flemingsburg, Kentucky, and graduated from Georgetown College with degrees in Accounting and English. After pursuing graduate work at Morehead State University in English and Music Education, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, focusing his professional career in accounting. Daryl served over 15 years on several LGBT non-profit boards, including Moveable Feast Lexington, the Lexington Pride Festival committee, and the Imperial Court of Kentucky, working to increase access to basic services, promote equality and fairness, and facilitate community awareness. Building on previous small business ventures in the hospitality industry, Daryl relocated to Whitesburg in 2015 and, with his husband Brad Shepherd, opened Heritage Kitchen, an American comfort food restaurant down the street from Appalshop.  They have settled into their home with their menagerie of cats, and are now fostering-to-adopt their two sons, Auston and Robert.

Eric VanHoose

Appalachian Media Institute

Eric VanHoose

Eric Vanhoose joined Appalshop in 2018 as the Educator for Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute.  After successfully creating the second Collegiate Esports Program in the nation, VanHoose went on to become the Founding Chairman of the National Association of Collegiate Esports.  As part of his work at AMI, Eric launched a 3D printing pilot program teaching six apprentices over the course of seven weeks how to design and print 3D media. Eric received Ithaca College’s S’Park Mentor award in the fall of 2019 in recognition for his work with AMI. As a born-and-raised Appalachian, Eric is happy to be working in media and technology with young people in his home region.

Laura Hughes

Appalshop

Laura Hughes

Laura Hughes joined Appalshop in 2019 as our Executive Assistant. Laura grew up in Cincinatti as the final addition to a family of six, and is a graduate from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Prior to Appalshop, Laura worked in the beauty industry as a stylist, a makeup artist and in salon management. The versatility of working with clients and on the set of commercials and photo shoots provided insights and skills Laura uses in her current role — as do her memories of "making jelly from Gramma's grapevine and canning beans from Grampa's garden.” Laura enjoys the arts, culture, music and learning about environmental topics, which led her to volunteer with Upper Cumberland Watershed Watch as both a sampler and trainer. As a single parent, Laura’s proudest moment (to date) has been seeing her son achieve his Master’s degree.

Annie Jane Cotten

Letcher County Culture Hub

Annie Jane Cotten

Annie Jane Cotten joined Appalshop in 2018 as the Letcher County Culture Hub organizer. She is passionate about organizing efforts that utilize arts and culture to foster vibrant, sustainable community-led and community-owned economies. Annie Jane’s life and work have taken her from her home state of Mississippi to northern Wisconsin, post-Katrina New Orleans, and many places in between before she nested in the central Appalachian mountains nearly a decade ago. Annie Jane has been active in citizen science initiatives, land preservation and protection, popular education, and environmental and social justice movements, and participates in organizing efforts through networks that range from local to international. Before coming to Appalshop, Annie Jane worked at The Clinch Coalition where she currently sits on the board, serving as well on the board of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Annie Jane is a certified community herbalist, and loves taking mountain walks with her dog Kitty. 

Mimi Pickering

Community Media Initiative and All Access EKY

Mimi Pickering

Mimi Pickering joined Appalshop in 1971 as a filmmaker. The recipient of numerous awards such as a Guggenheim Fellowship and two Kentucky Arts Council Artist Fellowships, her film The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 2005. Other documentaries include Chemical Valley, which aired on the PBS series P.O.V., and Hazel Dickens: It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song. Most recently Mimi produced Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, a biography of the storied civil rights and civil liberties activist, with former Appalshop filmmaker, Anne Lewis. As Director of Appalshop’s Community Media Initiative (CMI), Mimi produces Making Connections News to share stories exploring sustainable economic options for the coalfields. She also is a team leader for All Access EKY, a collaboration to raise awareness and support for comprehensive reproductive health services for women in Appalachian Kentucky.

Sydney Boles

WMMT

Sydney Boles

Sydney Boles joined Appalshop in 2018 as a radio reporter. She tells stories about economic transition for Appalshop’s radio station WMMT and the Ohio Valley ReSource. She received a Masters of Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where she covered immigration and housing insecurity in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine, NPR’s All Things Considered, and the Detroit Free Press, among other outlets. Before her work as a journalist, Sydney studied oral history and postcolonial resistance in Costa Rica, India, South Africa and Turkey. She was raised on a goat farm in rural upstate New York, and enjoys baking and exploring the outdoors. She is currently taking recommendations for getting into comic books.

Brett Ratliff

WMMT

Brett Ratliff

Brett Ratliff returned to Appalshop in 2019 as the Program Director of Appalshop’s WMMT. A multi-instrumentalist and lifelong apprentice of the Kentucky repertoire, Brett was born and raised in Van Lear, KY, a historic coal camp. His first solo release was in 2008 on Appalshop’s record label, June Appal Recordings, and Brett has made a name for himself as a solo artist and with groups such as Clack Mountain String Band, Dirk Powell Band, and others. Brett has taught traditional Kentucky repertoire at The Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Swannanoa Gathering, Sore Fingers Week, Augusta Heritage’s Early County Music Week and Old-Time Week, Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, and elsewhere. He helped found festivals such as the Morehead Old-Time Music Festival and the Lexington Old-Time Gathering, and has worked for the wellness of his region with Hindman Settlement School. A community organizer, Ratliff advocates for the connection between the arts, foodways, and social justice.

Ben Fink

Roadside Theater

Ben Fink

Ben Fink joined Appalshop in 2015 and currently works with Appalshop’s Roadside Theater as lead organizer of our Performing Our Future project. Ben has organized with faith, labor, and community networks in Minnesota, consulted with the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, and directed youth theater and creative writing programs at Appel Farm Arts and Music Center in rural southern New Jersey. He has served as dramaturg on the German premieres of several Broadway musicals and on the board of directors of Appalshop and Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc. Ben holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of Minnesota, and his work and writings on culture and organizing have been featured in TIME Magazine, Salon.com, The Brookings Institution, the National Endowment for the Arts, Moyers & Company, HowlRound, The Good Society, Theater Topics, and ArtPlace America. In 2016, he co-authored The Problem With Education Technology (Hint: It's Not the Technology). An avid Sacred Harp singer, Ben has helped revive shape note singing in East Kentucky and spends weekends belting out old hymns across the southern mountains and beyond.

Ada Smith

Appalshop

Ada Smith

Ada Smith joined Appalshop in 2010 after growing up in and around the organization. Originally from Whitesburg, Kentucky, Ada currently works as the Institutional Development Director of Appalshop. She is a founding member of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) Project. She serves on the board of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), and was the 2017 & 2018 co-facilitator for the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange. Ada was selected as a 2013 Arts & Culture Fellow by the Rockwood Leadership Institute, a 2016 Local Economy Fellow by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and a Southerner of the Year by Southern Living in 2017.

Elizabeth Sanders

WMMT

Elizabeth Sanders

Elizabeth joined Appalshop in 2012 after making her way back home to Eastern Kentucky in 2009. Elizabeth became a volunteer DJ with Appalshop’s WMMT in 2010, joined WMMT’s staff in 2012, and has served as WMMT’s General Manager since 2016. Elizabeth serves on the board of YES! Media and previously served as Chair of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth Board of Directors and Secretary of the Appalshop Board of Directors. She is an alumna of the STAY (Stay Together Appalachian Youth) Project, a member of the 2014 cohort of the Young Climate Leaders Network, and took part in the It Takes Roots delegation, a delegation of over one hundred indigenous and frontline community members attending the COP21 climate talks in Paris in 2015. Elizabeth has been a lead producer of WMMT’s Calls From Home since 2010. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys embroidery, Dungeons & Dragons, and playing with her rescue dog Clyde.

Willa Johnson

Appalachian Media Institute

Willa Johnson

Willa Johnson joined Appalshop in 2017 as the Lead Educator of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, which she now directs. Willa first began her journey with AMI in 2007 as a youth media intern,   and has served as an Appalachian Transition Fellow. She is a co-founder of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project (STAY) and recently worked for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) Community Engagement team, where she created FIREshare, a program designed in collaboration with The Holler to train teachers and students to use multimedia tools to tell their own stories about their schools and communities. A daughter of a retired middle school teacher and coal truck driver, Willa Johnson was raised in Letcher County and is a foster care advocate and adoptive parent to a toddler named Jay.

Becca Finney

Roadside Theater

Becca Finney

Becca Finney joined Appalshop in 2019 as the Director of Appalshop’s Roadside Theater. She has spent the last decade as a collaborative theater maker in rural spaces, and believes theater is an essential balance in contemporary culture because it invites an availability to both mystery and movement.  Becca is also an advocate for community-led art, which really just means she believes all theater-makers should also be good neighbors.  She was born and raised in central Kentucky into a family with a history of civic service, a legacy which she embraces and which fuels her work with both generosity and political persistence.  Becca earned her BFA in Dramatic Arts from Centre College, and her MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International.

Marley Green

Appalshop

Marley Green

Marley joined Appalshop in 2017 as a Community Development Worker. A native of Virginia, he graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology and Environmental Studies from James Madison University in 2009, and graduated from the University of Virginia with a Master’s Degree in Urban and Environmental Planning in 2017. At Appalshop, Marley supports collaborative projects with community partners in Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia, assists internal development and fundraising, and coordinates the cross-project Buildings and Grounds group. Prior to joining Appalshop, he worked as an environmental and economic justice community organizer in Southwest Virginia, linking ecological sustainability, community economic resilience, participatory democracy and social justice in pursuit of a better tomorrow for all. Marley is a passionate gardener, canoeist, and host of Toast and Jams on WMMT.

Alexandra Werner Winslow

Appalshop

Alexandra Werner Winslow

Alexandra Werner Winslow joined Appalshop in 2019 as our Communications Director. Born and raised in Virginia, she first came to Eastern Kentucky in 2012 to teach at the David School with Teach for America - Appalachia. She went on to work with other students in Eastern Kentucky, Western North Carolina, and the Mississippi Delta, attending journalism school to amplify their stories. Alexandra came on staff at the historic Delta Democrat-Times and the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she wrote a column and worked on children’s rights, voting rights, economic justice, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, and fighting hate and extremism as Digital Director. She earned her BA from Columbia University’s Barnard College and her MA from Boston University, and has been very pleased to live in the South ever since, although she won’t feel truly at home until she is again raising chickens and bees.