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Artists, scholars gather to study mountain culture
Jeanie Daves plays the fiddle Saturday along with Mark Baker, background, and other members of the Cage-Free String Band at the Appalachian Studies Conference at North Georgia College and State University.

Appalachian Studies Conference

Where: North Georgia College & State University, Dahlonega

When: 8 a.m.-noon today

DAHLONEGA — The 33rd annual Appalachian Studies Conference brought musicians, Georgia natives and visitors from numerous other states to the North Georgia College & State University campus this weekend for conference activities, sessions and social opportunities.

This year’s theme, “Engaging Communities” encouraged community members and academic professionals to communicate and learn from one another.

Cassie Robinson, the program community chairwoman, said the Appalachian Studies Association is unique because it was founded by scholars, activists and community leaders.

“In this association, there is a lot of accountability and involvement from the community — it doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D or not; either way your voice is heard and it is equal,” Robinson said. “It is an attempt to be equalitarian and an attempt to embrace that there are more ways of knowing information.”

Presentations were given on papers and reports on academic research and community practice. There also were workshops, roundtable discussions and films spanning five different themes: action, artistic, research, partnership and sustainability.

On Saturday, the Exhibit Hall was equipped with 64 tables with information about numerous academic programs, book sellers and environmental groups. Other events included bluegrass and old time music jams, a local quilt display and the first ASA Seed Swap.

One of the aspects of the conference was storytelling through performances. Saturday night, a performance was given called “Higher Ground.”

“It is a community play, so what has happened is that all history stories were gathered in the community by the community and then performed back to the community,” said Rosann Kent, the assistant director of the Georgia Appalachian Studies Center at NGCSU. “It is a different kind of play, but it is one that really features our story of Appalachia.”

Kent said that music is one of values and part of the heritage of Appalachia. That is something that Rasby Powell, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, knows well.

Powell was one of the speakers at the event. She focused on the musical aspect and the structural reasons why there is an old-time dancing and music community.

Powell was born close to Cumberland Gap, Tenn., and over the years, she has realized that the tradition of the area has faded away in certain areas.

“I wanted to think about was how we can maintain the community and keep it going,” Powell said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that through dance and music a lot of other traditions have grown as well.”

Another major part of the conference was honoring Byron Herbert Reece Day, which was Friday.

Reece, a poet and writer, grew up in Union County and taught at Young Harris College in Hiawasee, said Fleming Weaver, a volunteer with the Byron Herbert Reece Society.

Weaver said that at Friday night’s award banquet, a new video premiered, depicting Reece’s southern Appalachian lifestyle that greatly influenced his writing.

“He said on numerous occasions that he was a farmer first and a writer second,” Weaver said. “He had to farm to sustain he and his family so he could write.”

The video will be used in the educational exhibit at the Byron Herbert Reece farm and heritage center, which is being built in Union County.

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