By Mike Templeton

For the Urban Appalachian Community, art and advocacy are deeply linked. How we speak on behalf of our communities has everything to do with how we represent urban Appalachians both to ourselves and to the rest of the world. To this end, there have been a great many artists, poets, and creative writers who have played active roles in the work of UACC. Michael London, an urban Appalachian playwright, arts administrator and arts management educator has played a key role in some important projects that have everything to do with how we represent Appalachia. He is also the recipient of the 2023 Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts in the area of Community Development and Participation.

Core member Michael Maloney introduced me to Michael London, and he explained the he and London have “worked together on projects like the Ohio Appalachian Arts Initiative in the 80s and 90s that were funded by the Ohio Arts Council’s Minority Arts Program.  In these roles he helped fund UACC projects such as the Perceptions of Home exhibit.” The Perceptions of Home exhibit was a feature at this year’s Appalachian Festival at Coney Island. London brings the eye and ear of a playwright to this kind of work, but he is also deeply attuned to the elemental ways communities tell stories about themselves.

Michael London played a role in the development of “Perceptions of Home,” a project developed with the help of the Ohio Appalachian Arts Initiative that seeks to tell the stories of Appalachian migrants. London told me he recalls working on this and other projects with various members of UACC: “I acted as an advisor and consultant on a number of things,” he remembered, “I seem to recall being involved on some level as sounding board for ideas.” What draws London to getting involved with urban Appalachians and other communities is the process of telling stories toward the goal of “learning to value who we are,” as he explains.

London said that “it has been my goal—my passion—to find ways to accept and value who we are, and arts projects play such a valuable role in allowing us to accept ourselves.” The notion of accepting ourselves has much to do with his own Appalachian background. His family is from West Virginia, although London was born in Columbus, Ohio. Growing up, he got the impression that there was a sense that he and other people with Appalachian heritage should simply not acknowledge our Appalachian background. As he said, “What drove many people to leave the Appalachian region was the need for a better life, but others left because they did not feel a connection to a place where they felt valued.” Even within the urban Appalachian experience, London explains, “there is the opportunity to disappear and re-make yourself. Some of this was quite deliberate, and some of it was passive in the sense that people did not speak of their Appalachian background.” These are phenomena we are well-acquainted with as many of us grew up with a tacit understanding that we should not value our Appalachian heritage.

To counter this, London works toward developing projects in communities that help them find ways to value who they are and in doing this, it empowers people to lift each other up. These projects are about instilling a sense of self-value, but also a larger goal of public perceptions of this value. The motivation to help people create art that instills a sense of self-value is what London brought to his collaboration with Michael Maloney. He told me that “Mike and I were able to bring art and community organizations together for both rural and urban Appalachians.” London said that he found that there is a real desire within Appalachian communities to be seen and to put forth images of themselves that allow others to see what is most valuable about Appalachian life and culture.” Things like “Perceptions of Home” and other projects are ways of using the arts to empower rural and urban Appalachians toward putting forth an image of Appalachia that runs counter to negative stereotypes. Much of this work is accomplished by collecting and telling the stories of people who have lived experiences to share.

Michael London has worked with Core member Omope Carter Daboiku whose work is all about telling stories. Some of their collaboration was with “Perceptions of Home,” but they have collaborated on a number of projects. Omope, as we know, is a storyteller, and London speaks of this art form as essential to how we come to value ourselves and our communities: “Stories are the textbook for life,” London says, “we crave stories because this is where we learn about who we are and where we come from.” As a playwright, stories are part of the essence of his own craft, but stories for London are much more than amusements. They are a vehicle for making us strong enough to lift each other.  

The arts, and the power of stories, are central to all of Michael London’s work. As a playwright and community arts consultant, London uses stories and the arts to unify and empower individuals and communities. As London explains, “The arts are a point of focus for people to come together in a positive light. They make it possible for people to strengthen and advocate for themselves.” One might say that these ideals are central to the work of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. In recognition of his commitment to the arts and communities, the Governor’s Award for the Arts will be given to Michael London on Wednesday, May 17. More information is at Although registration for the Awards Luncheon is closed, the ceremony will be live streamed on the Ohio Arts Council Facebook page beginning at 11 a.m. The focus on art, poetry, and music is always bound up the work of advocacy, and advocacy is advanced through art, poetry, and music. These things are points of convergence for Michal London, as they are for the urban Appalachians communities.

An article in The Dayton Daily News about Michael and the Governor’s Award for the Arts can be found at this link:

Michael London’s website is at this link:

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available later this year from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iskra Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.

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