TOP Jessica Evans knows the psychological benefits of the arts—the way creation can calm the mind.
Her understanding helped inspire her art/restoration program called Culture of Restoration.
“I came up with the idea for Culture of Recovery after meeting an apprentice luthier in Hindman who was very honest about his struggles with addiction and believed that learning his trade helped him a lot on his road to recovery,” Evans said . She was the director of the Appalachian Artisan Center there. “I personally know that art has the ability to calm my own restless mind and offer stress relief and a sense of accomplishment. I have seen the effects of substance abuse in this region and felt called to offer support in the way I know how – sharing the healing benefits of art.”
The Appalachian Artisan Center offers:
- Art slams that allow participants to complete a piece of art in a variety of media in one session and experience a sense of completion and creation while exploring new skills and media.
- Art Journeys that allow participants to participate in art mentoring programs on a weekly basis throughout their recovery, learning skills that start at the basic level and progress to artistry, pottery, luthier making and blacksmithing. Business courses complement the program.
- Community engagement that creates a platform for those in recovery to dispel stigma and find a place in the community beyond drugs and addiction. Narrative stage presentations, square dances, interactive public art, live songwriting performances, and oral history gathering allow our participants to reach out and engage with the community at large.
Evans wanted to make full use of the Hindman studios while also offering art classes to those in substance abuse recovery, so potters, blacksmiths and luthiers were hired to present workshops at the Hickory Hill Recovery Center in Emalena and the Court of Knott County Narcotics in Hindman
“The results of this program have been great to see,” Evans said. “I’m proud to say that the Culture of Recovery program continued in my absence and even expanded with the creation of Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Co., where luthiers trained through CoR were hired to build instruments full-time at Hindman. Unfortunately, the Appalachian Artisan Center suffered a major setback with the July flooding in this area and it may be some time before these programs can resume.”
She said starting the program was easy because there are many talented artists and artisans in the area.
“Now, these same people have discovered the tremendous health benefits that art provides and have become its strongest supporters,” she said, adding that the program has become more widely accepted. “It won’t be a silver bullet for the opioid crisis or substance abuse in general, but for some people it can build essential life skills and encourage productive expression of emotions through art.” and even if it only reaches some people, that’s still great.”
Evans, a native and resident of Boyd County, was recently elected vice president of the Kentucky Craft History and Education Association, which aims to preserve and promote the history of crafts in the Commonwealth.
“As a potter and craftsman myself, tradition is important to me. I am constantly in awe of the amazing artists and artisans in our state,” she said.
In 2020, Evans joined the Kentucky Community and Economic Development Initiative as an Arts Associate, where she developed a statewide curriculum and toolkit for use by those aiming to strengthen substance abuse programs using art.
Being at home in Summit and living in his late grandparents’ house brought about a different perspective on art.
“While renovating my grandparents’ home, I keep coming across beautiful objects covered in layers of dust—my grandfather’s old fishing maps, paintings and quilts made by relatives, photographs, books, workshop tools, plates and glasses, that I ate from as a child,” she said, noting that the items offer more than sentimental value when displayed and shared. “I would dust off these objects, display them in my own home so that I could tell the stories of these objects when friends or family visited.”
Similarly, Evans said, the artists involved in Culture of Recovery share their experiences in their creations.
“The artists themselves are turning their Kentucky experiences and traditions into a piece of craft, and we’re collecting those stories,” she said. “Putting the exhibits into an exhibition and bringing these stories to the public is incredibly enriching. I love the idea that other people can see something that inspires them to create something new, or learn a craft, or explore the history of craft items they may already have in their homes.”