ABN Member Spotlight: Campbell Culture Coalition

Article by Lindsey Jaremko, ABN Intern and UT MSSW Candidate.

How many times have you sat around a dinner table with a group of friends and said, “You know what this town really needs?” This is exactly how the Campbell Culture Coalition (C3) got its start. A group of individuals living in Campbell County, Tennessee, who care about their town’s history and culture, felt they needed to do something to promote its important past and preserve its future. Instead of letting this idea fade into the night, they took action.

After many ideas circulated the table, they landed on the idea of hosting a music and arts festival in honor of Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong. Armstrong was born in Dayton, Tennessee and grew up in LaFollette in the 1920s. He became one of the nation’s most recognized string band musicians, a talented artist and writer, and an expert painter who even created his own album covers. He was a multi-talented man who designed the juke joint set for the film The Color Purple, made jewelry from found objects, and spoke several languages. The original mission of the group was to highlight all that Campbell County had to offer in the arts, culture, and history. After the idea of the festival in Armstrong’s honor had been settled upon, funding the event became the group’s primary focus.

Manuel Mesa, who is the executive director of C3, joined the board in 2007 and immediately pushed for the organization to become a 501(c)(3). Doing so would help the group raise money and awareness for the festival, which became known as The Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival.  In the beginning, it was all about the festival. However, as they started to lay out their mission statement, they realized the significance and importance of getting youth involved in their activities. After all, today’s youth would be the ones to carry on the traditions and care for the arts and culture of the area in the future. This is especially important in Campbell County because, like many other rural areas, there is little to no funding for arts curriculum in the schools. Arts programs at the elementary level are almost non-existent. Though it gets better as students move into high school, arts classes are only offered as electives. Mesa feels by that point, it may be too late to get young people engaged. C3 is working hard to provide programs at as early an age as possible, and for every skill level. Mesa feels strongly that the earlier you can introduce kids to the arts, the more likely they are to continue to pursue the arts in the future. He thinks that if you wait until middle school, the opportunity is already lost.

C3 does not require any kind of arts background or experience to participate in the programs they offer. They want to provide an opportunity for young people to try something new. Mesa works hard to find professional instructors who understand that class participants have a variety of skill levels and experience. This can be difficult because they have to keep the faster-paced students engaged while supporting all participants. But, the group won’t advance until every single person is ready, and for this reason, the classes have a fairly loose format. The hope is that the students leave feeling they have accomplished something they never thought possible.

The Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival is an annual event, but C3 is constantly learning and developing new programs and curriculum to reach a broader audience and increase impactful results. They have two new classes beginning this fall: Watercolor Waterfalls and Quick Wonders of Campbell County. The watercolor class is geared towards elementary-age students, but the Quick Wonders course will be the first time C3 will be teaching the same course to multiple age groups. The curriculum is going to be exactly the same, with identical objectives and instructors, and may be somewhat of an experiment to see how each age group needs to be led. The classes will consist of very intense, focused teaching in which the participants will produce images of rock formations in Campbell County. They’ll start with very basic art concepts, like the color wheel and other rudimentary ideas of shape and design, and within a period of an hour or two­, they will create paintings. Mesa says that everyone involved is inspired, everyone is growing on some level, and the excitement is stimulating, which keeps the courses from becoming stagnant. All of C3’s programs are constantly evolving and improving, including The Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival.

One of the things that makes C3 special is that it is an all-volunteer, membership-based organization that serves as the local arts agency for the Campbell County area. They strive to enhance the economic and cultural opportunities for their residents and preserve the areas vibrant culture, while at the same time engaging local youth. C3 will also host an Arts and Culture Day for this year’s leadership classes held by the Campbell County Chamber of Commerce.

C3 is a proud, community-focused organization that is working hard to keep the area’s dynamic past alive, while enriching the lives of its residents, visitors, and the next generation. Interested in getting involved? Because C3 is an all-volunteer organization, it is important to the festival and their programs to find community volunteers. They rely heavily on these individuals, especially those with a background in the arts. If you would like to contribute, volunteer, or learn more, please visit the Campbell Culture Coalition website today!