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Short film focuses on art as activism against the coal industry in eastern Ky.

Doug Naselroad examines damaged equipment at his Appalachian School of Luthiery. Naselroad is featured in a new short film narrated by Kentucky band The Local Honeys.
Stephanie Wolf
Doug Naselroad examines damaged equipment at his Appalachian School of Luthiery. Naselroad is featured in a new short film narrated by Kentucky band The Local Honeys.

A new short film features how art has played a role in eastern Kentucky’s activism against the coal industry.

Members of the Kentucky band The Local Honeys partnered with outdoor company Patagonia to produce “Dying to Make a Living,” which is available on YouTube. It looks at how strip mining has changed and damaged central Appalachia, and highlights how the historic July floods – and climate change – are making things more dire.

“Just like coal destroys the land, it also destroys our people,” The Local Honeys’ Linda Jean Stokley said in the film. “Mining is back-breaking work, and it's dangerous. Too many people have died working in the mines, and many more have been permanently disabled.”

She goes on, saying that on-the-job injuries and hardships are contributing to the region’s opioid epidemic as people seek relief from their pain. She said the huge companies have yet to show any empathy toward miners nor accept accountability: “You're just a shovel.”

Stokley and her band mate Montana Hobbs spoke of the activism of miners and artists in Appalachian communities.

“A lot of people feel hopeless because they don't see any way to improve their lives,” Stokley said. “Art is so often dismissed as unnecessary, but there's nothing more powerful than creating something.”

The Local Honeys said that’s what motivated the founder of the Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company, Doug Naselroad. The Hindman-based stringed instrument company employs people recovering from substance use.

“But we also employ people who are in economic recovery, who are refugees from the coal industry, people who are underemployed,” Naselroad said in the film. “We realized that what these people needed was a path forward, a job, a way to reintegrate into society post addiction. Recovery is a lifelong process.”

Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company and the Appalachian School of Luthiery were hit hard by flooding this summer.

Naselroad told LPM News earlier this year that music in Appalachian Kentucky has long been about a celebration of survival.

"That's where an awful lot of our joy occurs, is in music,” he said in September. And that joy has been a driving force in rebuilding the instrument company’s facilities – that and ensuring his workers stay busy.

“The tradition of folk music is so important in Kentucky, and it's so intertwined with our tradition of activism,” Stokley said in the new short film. “The folk singer is the person who goes out and talks about these dirty things and who sings about both the plights and the victories of the common people. You can degrade our land, you can destroy our bodies, but you can't break the spirit of the resilient and prideful Kentuckians.”

Stephanie Wolf comes to WFPL News from Colorado Public Radio, where she covered arts and culture. Her stories have aired nationally on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Here & Now. Before picking up a microphone and field recorder, Stephanie was a professional ballet dancer. She danced with Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado), the Metropolitan Opera, James Sewell Ballet and Minnesota Ballet. Stephanie graduated from St. Mary’s College of California through a program that allowed her to earn her college degree in conjunction with her performing career.
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