Founder of Affrilachian Artist Project encourages cultural education, diversity

Michael Bragg

As a part of Appalachian Heritage week, founder of the Affrilachian Artist Project Marie T. Cochran will give a talk titled “Notes of a Native Daughter” to listeners in Whitewater Cafe Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“The mission of the Affrilachian Artist Project is to sustain cultural anchors, which nurture a sense of agency, provide support for intergenerational exchange between artists and enrich the Appalachian region with a diverse creative network,” Cochran said.

The week’s events, sponsored by the student-run Appalachian Heritage Council, are intended to promote education about the regional culture of Appalachia. Separate from the other festivities, this event sheds light on an often-ignored aspect of mountain culture.

“People don’t usually think of African-Americans as being from Appalachia, but the truth is they’ve been here just as long as everyone else,” said Josie Hoggard, Appalachian Heritage Chairperson for APPS.

The Affrilachian Artist Project is an increasing network of African American artists who live and work in the Appalachian region. Marie Cochran, lecturer and arts advocate at Western Carolina University, was inspired to create the project by the success of the Affrilacian Poetry group in Lexington, Ky.

“She saw African Americans coming together as artists in that aspect, with the spoken word poetry, and took that idea to start the visual arts project.” Hoggard said.

The project is intended not only to provide a welcoming community in which African American artists can show their work, but also to provide the public with cultural perspective and historical education.

In recent years string bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who met at the first Black Banjo Gathering in Boone in 2005, have made a similar effort to the Artist Project.

“The banjo actually comes from Africa,” Hoggard said.

The Appalachian Heritage Council hopes this event can play off of the success resurgence of the popularity of bluegrass in North Carolina to further promote their cause.

Cochran sees Appalachian State as a perfect opportunity for her program and others like it.

“I have given previous talks at other colleges which have established Appalachian Studies programs, but I’m very excited about the opportunity to speak during a designated series of events for an Appalachian Heritage Celebration.” Cochran said.

Light refreshments will be provided. The event is free and open to the public.

“The poems, the art, and the music really get people thinking, and we’re hoping just to get people thinking more about the importance of diversity and culture with open minds.” said Imani McClure, Council for Cultural Awareness Chairperson. “We want them to take something with them.”

Story: LOVEY COOPER, A&E Reporter