This case study shares the story of the Letcher County Culture Hub, a multi-stakeholder initiative developed in a small Appalachian community that had been struggling with economic stagnation, unemployment, and drug addiction in the wake of the coal industry’s collapse in the region. This case study describes how the Culture Hub model was developed and shares it as an example of local innovation with lessons that can speak to challenges facing communities far beyond Appalachia.
The process of envisioning and developing the Culture Hub involved introducing into use what was, from a local perspective, a novel approach to relationship building, collaboration, and coalition-building. This approach involved a mix of deep listening practices, structured dialogues, joint enactment of new scenarios through acting and storytelling, regional learning exchanges, and community-led joint projects brought together into a cohesive model that worked across deep cultural and political divides towards the identification of common priorities for local action. In the process, Culture Hub members co-developed a network of collaborations that proved capable of shifting the local economic dynamic from one of dependency on a single outside industry, which had dominated the local economy for over a hundred years, towards a bottom-up economy driven by the needs of residents and animated by locally owned and managed enterprises. The case study illustrates how local systems change and locally-led development can be initiated and brought about, even in the unlikeliest of places.
Elizabeth Hoffecker, Research Scientist, Local Innovation Group Lead