- Associated Press - Saturday, August 2, 2014

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) - In news, television, movies and popular culture, Appalachia is often depicted as drug-addicted, dirty, uneducated and impoverished. But the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services and The Appalachian Project are on a mission to change that.

The Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University celebrates the true cultural heritage of Appalachia by documenting and showcasing Appalachia’s past. This year marks the center’s 30th anniversary.

“The truth about any region can never be fully known because diverse perspectives see different ‘truths,’ ” said Roberta Herrin, center director. “Research is the key - research in all its forms. As part of an institution of higher education, the center is committed to research that captures these diverse perspectives, thereby helping to see a whole region, which is far more meaningful and interesting than the flat media representations that are so common.”

The center includes the Reece Museum and the Archives of Appalachia. It also publishes Now & Then, a magazine committed to the honest representation of all aspects of the Appalachian region.

“In the last 10 years, the center focused on curriculum and created the world’s only academic department devoted to the Appalachian region,” Herrin said. “This unique Department of Appalachian Studies houses the only B.A. in Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies and a Master of Arts in Appalachian Studies, one of two nationally.”

The Reece Museum exhibits the true nature of Appalachia’s past for ETSU and the community. It also displays the contemporary art and culture of the area. Herrin said the museum undermines negative stereotypes about Appalachia “by preserving material culture and interpreting or exhibiting it in new and evocative ways that help us see the region’s future.”

The Archives of Appalachia collects, preserves and shares the written words, sounds and images of the people of Appalachia. By preserving the documents and materials of a long-ago Appalachia, the archives serve both the ETSU community and the region in providing the facts and stories of the past.

“A lot of times, people come in and want to know specific things about the people’s history and the region’s history,” said Laura Smith, education and outreach activist for the Archives of Appalachia. “We can let people delve into that by providing preserved documentation and materials from that history.”

Smith said that in their role as a research facility, they serve an vital role in the community.

“That’s why we’re important,” Smith said. “We show the region things that were created by Appalachia, not just for Appalachia.”

Herrin said the center also hosts one of Tennessee’s Governor’s Schools, a residential program for high school students that explores the region through history, paleontology, museum studies and archival studies.

“What better way is there to combat negative representations of the region than to engage high school and college students in meaningful dialogue about Appalachia?” asked Herrin.

Awareness about the importance of uncovering the true stories of Appalachia is spreading throughout the region as organizations, projects, films and documentaries on the subject are being created by locals. As the center celebrates 30 years, Herrin is hopeful it has many more years of educating the public in store.

“Because there are many ‘truths’ about Appalachia’s identity and history, the best we can do is provide a lens through which all the different perspectives can be seen and examined,” Herrin said.

Johnson City resident Shane Simmons is on a similar mission. He and his partner, Jason Barton, are in the process of creating a documentary that will showcase the culture and heritage of Appalachia.

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