PRINCETON, WV (WVNS) —RiffRaff Arts Collective (RRAC) is thrilled to launch their original program, “We Need to Talk”, a movement using music videos and docu-shorts to build bridges and catalyze community healing.

RRAC is creating sweeping, cinematic music videos featuring original music by artists within Southern West Virginia that have written songs about issues they are passionate about, or ways they see the world that they wish the community could open their hearts to. RRAC is using these videos to empower community members to tell their stories and raise their voices. Below are stills from these music videos.

Featured songs include themes of change and empowerment, and docu-shorts explore issues that inspired their creation. The pieces will be showcased and followed by discussion at City Hall during council meetings and at special community conversations at a variety of locations. 

The first video, which will be released on Sunday, January 22, 2023. The video explores the value and impact of kindness, and demonstrates that the ways we treat each other, matter. The video features numerous local actors, including Brady Walker and Julie McCullough, and popular locations such as Dolly’s Diner, Grants Supermarket and Mercer Street Grassroots District. This video is dedicated in loving memory of Rylee Neveah Odle, who believed deeply in spreading kindness. She said, “If you can’t find the sunshine, #bethesunshine.”

This music video and the other 7 in the series, along with their accompanying short documentaries, will also be showcased in various settings around the community, including at Rotary, at Chuck Mathena Center, in county commission meetings, at open public gatherings, and more. If you would like to host or be involved with a community conversation, RRAC welcomes you to reach out to connect. Information about the community conversation dates, times and locations will be located at theriffraff.net, along with the videos as they are released.

The project is supported by an “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This is one of 63 grants nationwide that the agency approved in this category to support projects that integrate arts, culture, and design activities into efforts that strengthen communities by advancing local economic, physical, and/or social outcomes; ultimately laying the groundwork for sustainable systems change.

“As the country and the arts sector begin to work towards a post-pandemic world, the National Endowment for the Arts is proud to announce this Our Town funding. These awards support cross-sector partnerships such as the one led by RiffRaff Arts Collective that demonstrate the power of the arts to help communities create a better future for themselves.”

NEA Former Chairman Ann Eilers

We Need to Talk builds on established cultural infrastructure and a community of gifted artists who have been working for nearly 20 years in downtown Princeton to bring about change through music and the arts. Formerly a thriving town center, Princeton’s Mercer Street has suffered from decades of decay.

RRAC planted roots in a historic structure when downtown was at 80% vacancy and, fueled by relentless optimism, pumped life into the neighborhood. This arts-driven transformation has become a model, and RRAC developed the Create Your State program to share this knowledge and empower other communities. The musical, multi-media program has traveled to 25 WV towns and a dozen events around Appalachia, offering ongoing mentorship to participants. 

After nearly 20 years of collaboration with artists, city government and community partners, RRAC has demonstrated the arts as a force for economic transition. Now, they are ready to deepen their practice, and use the power of the arts to create a culture of listening, broaden civic engagement, and make their town a more inclusive place. 

Key partners of the project are Stages Music School, The City of Princeton, Community Connections, and others.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support of NEA; this is a true milestone for us after nearly 20 years of work. It is wonderful to be embraced and fueled to bring our creativity to this next level we’ve been envisioning. We designed this project to empower and uplift voices in our community that need to be heard, sharing stories through the powerful medium of music video. We believe in the power of music to heal, and we know that these works of art and community conversation experiences are going to connect people, and inspire empathy and compassion. The timing is right, and we’re ready for this.”

Co-Founder and Executive Director of RRAC Lori McKinney

To find out more about RiffRaff Arts Collective, visit www.theriffraff.net. For more information National Endowment for the Arts, visit arts.gov.