It's been more than a decade since Steve Vest, the editor and publisher of Kentucky Monthly magazine, gave me an assignment to travel to Kentucky towns without doing a lick of research to "get back to basics" and find stories by just wandering and talking to folks. I was allowed to use a GPS to get there and a phone to call him if I got lost, which I did often, but once I arrived in a town like Amandaville or Faubush or Zachariah, I learned what you all are learning now: the essential folks, the ones who actually know and guard the heart of a town and it's people, are the ones who might have been mistaken for ordinary.
I find myself waking up, thinking of the times I'd travel to a town that was all but abandoned except for feral cats that roamed the empty elementary schools or storefronts that have collapsed under the grip of time and kudzu. If I hadn't seen those places for myself, those places right here in Kentucky, I wouldn't believe they truly existed and maybe I'd sleep easier or as well as anyone can with so much collective grief in the air. We lose a part of our story when that happens and with so many small businesses writhing under the pressure and uncertainty we currently face, I fear the stories, the light, we'll lose if we are not mindful.
My dream after that on-the-road learning experience, which my partner and dear friend, Autumn, found herself tangled up in, was to hold space where those stories could unfold and be preserved. I dreamed of a place where the farmer with the audacity to paint without a bit of formal training on boards in his grandfather's barn could be celebrated as an artist in space that he'd feel at home in or where the woman writing songs on a hand-me-down guitar could sell her records. I wanted to see writers picking gravel out of their souls and healers washing folks back to remembering the good, intuitive work of their guts. I wanted to build a table for all of those ragamuffin angels I met on the road because they are the lightkeepers and they help us remember ourselves before we stopped doodling on napkins and singing the old songs. That's what those abandoned towns did not have; that spark of curiosity was snuffed out and with it, the memory. Without memory, without the big WHY preserved in art, song and story, well it all gets released back to time and kudzu.
We set out to create a soulful studio and creative market that would become an essential place of healing and celebration and the week we were ready to open our doors, the world closed. We've built a business for gathering during a season when the most loving thing to do is isolate. Our mantra has always been "Stay Curious" and, friend, let me tell you we are mad with curiosity right now. We are searching our hearts to find ways to foster connection from a safe distance and pioneering new ways to serve. Our mission hasn't changed: We want to nurture the lightkeepers so they can ignite (or reignite) the creative fire in others. That mission seems more important now than ever.
In the coming weeks, we'll be creating art kits with wine or champagne curated by the Winefellas, the wine shop and bar that will share space and vision with us once it's safe to open our doors. We are working with ways to create virtual workshop experiences, coaching, art therapy and more. What we need right now is to hear from you. Are you an artist impacted by festivals closing? Are you looking for ways to continue facilitating workshops at a safe distance? Are you suddenly homeschooling and looking for art education you can share with your children? Help us understand the need so that we can roll up our sleeves and get to work.
In the meantime, we're keeping the light on.