How People Affect Places

Summer Arts Academy Coordinators

Alora Chesney Jones (Fleming County High School) and Eric Morris (Mason County High School)

Morehead State University’s Summer Arts Academy (SAA) brings students together from many of Kentucky’s regional high schools to practice many of the creative skills they might otherwise not have time to cultivate under traditional educational models. SAA students in the Creative Writing and Media track of this summer’s program each explored a variety of creative settings around Morehead before working to demonstrate their abilities through a passion project of their own choosing. At the end of the week when they sat down to describe the themes they thought united all of their work, they settled on How People Affect Places: An Exploration into the Exchange of Identity. Each of their projects explored not only the effects people enact upon their surroundings but also the lingering emotions those places leave with us even years after important experiences.

Upcoming sophomore and ambitious novelist Addison Duff included one of the places she visited in her short story, “Small Town Lovin’”, a Morehead romance between a young woman exploring her place in the world and a young man still trying to connect with others in meaningful ways even as he runs a coffeeshop in his small town. When asked about her weeklong experience with the SAA, Addison said, “This week was a blessing in disguise. As a person: I am lazy, not very productive, and really don’t like feedback or ideas. But now, since this week, I have changed.” She elaborates even more to say that many of the experiences she had as part of this artistic endeavor directly influenced the characters and settings in “Small Town Lovin’”: “But it’s the experience that changed me, I realize there’s inspiration everywhere.”  

The concept of place and identity also mattered a great deal to rising sophomore Henry Johnson, who found himself greatly interested in matters of history and architecture. He chose to introduce his audience to a famous landmark from his hometown that people from outside his region might not be familiar with–the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, KY. Through a fictional and paranormal encounter with the resident spirit named Paramount Joe, Johnson introduces readers to the historical background of the treasured theater. Henry urges his audience, just like Paramount Joe does to “never forget the past” as he continues to explore via writing the wealth of history around his home. 

Rebecca Smith, an upcoming junior, wanted to expand her horizons by journeying three and a half hours from her city to attend the SAA. While taking part in the camp, she interviewed teachers, students, staff, and community members about the many unique characteristics that they thought defined their homes. She then showcased her findings in a multimedia portrayal where she investigated what home means to a variety of fellow artists. Although she admitted to entering the SAA with a touch of writer’s block, some of the time she spent with her peers and teachers changed that tendency; she remarks, “I learned that my excuse of ‘writer’s block’ that I’ve had these past months was wrong. I was simply unmotivated. I didn’t want to try. I learned that a blank page is only as scary as you make it seem. To become a ‘good’ writer doesn’t mean you can spell perfectly or you have legible handwriting. Being a good writer simply means to write.” Rebecca greatly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with members of the Convergent Media community in Morehead as she realized that making her work available for others to see fulfills an important role, for she went on to say, “Everything is worth sharing. It will inspire others to write.”

Kiley Robinson, a rising junior who also shares authorial aspirations, examined the human mind and the prison it can build for itself. Through her short story, she delivers an enticing psychological analysis and has the audience questioning the complexity of the terms innocent and guilty. The SAA represented a major departure for her from the sometimes solitary life of a writer, although she spoke strongly about the benefits this change served her, declaring, “I have learned things, I’ve experienced moments that I wouldn’t have if I wouldn’t have came to this camp. I’ve made friends, that hopefully will stay. And I’ve written a story that will forever inspire me to take in the people around me, and to not be afraid of the place around me. Because MSU isn’t what effected me, it was the people around me. Inspiring me, laughing with me (or for Rebecca laughing at me), bringing me out of my shell, and showing me how great socialization can [be] because of how great they are.

As each of these students and their teachers realized, the SAA amplified the flow of ideas, inspiration, and intellectual opportunities these writers had by allowing them to practice freely the projects that intrigued them the most in a welcoming and inspirational environment. Although each student entered the SAA from a different place armed with a different passion, they each ended the week as a writer moved by the people, places, and practices they engaged with in different ways while creating their writerly lives.  

Watch this space for announcements about the 2024 Summer Arts Academy at Morehead State University.