Author, educator, and UACC Core Member Sherry Cook Stanforth grew up in Clermont County, Ohio, within eyeshot of the Ohio River. She would wander around on her family’s property pretending to be different animals and picking plants to make a “salad”—you know, the healthier alternative to a mud pie. Even as an adult, Sherry has created spaces to enjoy all nature has to offer through gardening, keeping bees, hiking, and learning about native plants (especially ones she can eat or concoct into a home remedy). When she is not outside, she is likely teaching at Thomas More University, writing, playing music, or working with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition (UACC) or the Originary Arts Initiative (OIA).

“My early the Urban Appalachian Council connection and my current cultural program involvement with UACC has helped me understand who I am in this world. Recently, I became a core member of UACC, and I’m honored to serve its missions. I want to inspire other folks—especially young people—the way I was inspired and validated so many years ago.”

She is also the founder of her newest endeavor, The Originary Arts Initiative (OIA), an initiative aimed at providing interactive, educational, and public arts programs for diverse and underserved populations in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky community. Sherry has a passion for blending writing and storytelling experiences with music and the natural world. “Poetry, for example, rises powerfully when we’re inside creek beds or leaning against the trunk of a sycamore tree,” she said.

Sherry has found a way to creatively merge her passions for ecology, writing, community, and music by launching new creative youth programs that will work to cultivate, create, and connect diverse communities on a local level. UACC is a proud co-sponsor of these programs including “Place Keepers Wide Open Mic.” This virtual open mic series is open to young creatives in high school and college. The spirit of this new “Place Keepers Wide Open Mic” series arises from this question: How can creative expression help us to preserve our cherished home places and landscapes?

“Our goal with the Place Keepers Wide Open Mic programming is to cultivate a curious and supportive community around young artists who are in their teens or early 20s. This virtual open mic invites people to share their poetry, short prose, music, or visual art. We’ll extend this into the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area and its surrounding counties, too. We’re especially hopeful to reach young people who come from Appalachian backgrounds or live in underserved school districts—but this is open to every young person who is dreaming up creative new pieces of work.”

In addition to the open mic events, Sherry plans on adding other creative showcases, workshops, and writing contests. She also has plans to schedule live “Place Keepers Open Mic” events at unique venues around Greater Cincinnati. However, this creative project is just getting started.

“We need an audience! Everyone is invited to participate as a listener who appreciate that new creative growth happening around us. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to have a place to ‘go’ and be heard? A place to ‘go’ and experience all forms of storytelling wisdom from our young, emerging artists and leaders? The Appalachian spirit of storytelling and home recognition would naturally thrive in this kind of community circle. And this circle would widen to include diverse voices from many places, heritage values, and identities.”

Artists and audiences gather on the last Wednesday of every month for the rest of the year from 5:00 P.M. to 6:30 P.M. Those who would like to participate or observe can email Sherry at [email protected] for the link.

Erinn Sweet is writer, Communications Specialist for the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition and master of communication candidate at the University of Cincinnati. Originally from Whitley County Kentucky, she now resides in Covington, KY with her wonderful partner and three cats.

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