Rockies to the Appalachians

International students from ETSU visiting Johnson County to tour the Mural Mile

Cristy Dunn, the director of The Johnson County Center for the Arts, along with Arts Council member and volunteer Terri Morris, was recently selected and trained as facilitators for the AIR Collaborative initiative and will be launching the first part of the three-part program on Thursday, February 16.

AIR, which stands for Arts Incubator of the Rockies, was founded in 2012 in Fort Collins, CO, to draw people of diverse backgrounds and experiences together to transform communities in ways both innovative and economically sustainable. The program has since moved to Berea College in Kentucky. It has developed regional-specific initiatives, including this one in partnership with The Tennessee Arts Commission and The North Carolina Arts Council.

For the introductory event in February, Dunn hopes to engage members of Johnson County’s business and arts communities. “Anyone who applies creativity to life, who defines problems, and can brainstorm and refine solutions,” describes who Dunn is looking for. “I hope to see people from the Chamber of Commerce as well as the Arts Council. The banks are very community-oriented here, people from the local restaurants, and people who own and run businesses in Johnson County.” She is also hoping to attract young people and artists of all disciplines.

Because the entire idea is to create actionable ideas, the event following the introduction will be held over three days, March 13 through 15, during which the facilitators will help teams collaborate to create small, locally implementable projects, which will be reviewed by a panel of volunteers and put forward for funding. Examples of projects that have been brought to fruition in the Appalachian Region can be found in Patrick County, Virginia, where the Rise and Shine Market, TheEn Patrick County Trail HANDS Project, and The Patrick County Barn Quilt Trail all originated from AIR collaborations. In Berea, Kentucky, the Pop Up STEAM Shops and the Berea Story Trail also came about as a result of the incubator.

Small, invigorated communities where dollars and cents and nuts and bolts thinking merge and collaborate with intangible ideas of culture and quality of life provide real economic benefits. In Johnson County, initiatives such as the Mural Mile, and the Cultural Heritage Maps, are examples of the types of collaborations that have happened here. “People come here every week because of the mural mile, and then they eat at restaurants and go to local businesses,” Dunn says, illustrating how arts initiatives have a powerful dollar value. The work on these was done by a very small group of people, and the AIR Collaborative seeks to expand the number of people involved in order to both share the load and increase the wealth of ideas.

“I just sent an email to our volunteers yesterday,” Dunn says of the power of collaborative work. “I was saying we have so many different ways of thinking, so many different skill sets, the sum really is greater than the parts. That’s what happens when you bring people together. They find a way to connect and realize they have something to offer. It’s kind of magical.”

To register for the AIR Engage Workshop on February 16 at 6:00 p.m. and the AIR Shift Workshop on March 13-15, email the Johnson County Center for the Arts at, or for more information, contact the Johnson County Center for the Arts at (423) 460-3313 or visit them online at


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