Grassroots Creativity, Fresh and Local

Grassroots Creativity, Fresh and Local

Grassroots Creativity, Fresh and Local

Guiding community development via the traveling Arts Festival

Meet SMARTBob, the new mobile Arts delivery system.

No, SMARTBob is not a robot. Nor an intrusively personal phone app.

It’s a nonprofit foundation dedicated to growing the Arts in rural communities by utilizing the time-honored tradition of the local festival.

You can see it in action at BobFest this Memorial Day Weekend on May 26 in Paintsville, Kentucky, a town of 3,500 nestled in the Cumberland Plateau foothills, an hour south of Interstate 64.

Musicians from New York, Texas, California, Ohio, New Jersey, West Virginia and Tennessee will join local performers in presenting an eclectic mix of blues, folk, country, reggae, rock, soul, bluegrass, Irish and Scottish fiddling.

The “Bob” of SMARTBob refers to Bob Edwards, a popular, multi-faceted musician from the neighboring community of Louisa, who died last year at age 57. In his honor, devoted friends and students are implementing the SMART initiative (Supporting Music, Arts & Recreational Training), an Arts incubation effort they hope will extend his influence beyond his small town and short life.

“Bob understood the power of the creative self to act as an anchor for a person to bring positive change into their life,” says Phoebe Del Boccio, a longtime friend of Edwards and a founder of the SMARTBob Foundation.

Currently a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Systems and protocol development specialist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, Del Boccio is a Paintsville native familiar with the geographic and cultural isolation that marks many Appalachian communities.

Historically, she says, mountain people have used the Arts to foster a pride of place and identity. “Arts give you the endurance and resilience to keep going when you’re facing tough times.”

The SMARTBob strategy is to approach a community and offer practical Arts instruction to people without easy access to cultural facilities or programming. The introduction is a community-wide Arts event — “a music festival, visual arts fair, theatre, public dances, whatever their preference and traditions,” says Del Boccio.

In Eastern Kentucky, a music festival brings people out from all over. Hence, this month’s inaugural BobFest will spring into being at a beautiful lakeside state park.

“The first thing we look to as a solution to any social problem is the creative one,” says Del Boccio. “In a rural community, for example, people might express a desire for professional music or band lessons, but teachers are few and remote. How do you solve that problem?”

By bringing 21st-century technology into play. A SMARTBob solution would set up a schedule of virtual, real-time music lessons via Skype or other VOIP service. A local musician serves as on-site supervisor; guest teachers could conceivably be master musicians from anywhere in the world.

And, adds Del Boccio, the SMARTBob model can be adapted to urban enclaves as well. “We have the technology to bring Arts instruction to and from any point on the planet. What are we waiting for?”

The foundation also funds artist/student mentorship programs, creative development workshops and scholarships. At the upcoming BobFest in Paintsville, two area students will be awarded scholarships in the fields of Music Innovation, given in Edwards’ memory and Creative Writing, given in memory of the late Paintsville poet Deborah Ward Henry.

“You’re leaving the decisions with the community, not coming in like some do-gooder telling people what you think they need,” says Del Boccio. “You make the creativity component an integrative part of community life. Then you ask, ‘What’s the next step?’ and you keep building step by step.”

The SMARTBob philosophy has deep historical roots in our national culture.

In the early 1800s, Eastern Kentucky was home to The Great Awakening — a decade-long series of grass-roots religious assemblies that swept across the frontier and forever changed the nature of American spirituality. The legendary Cane Ridge Revival of 1801 that drew more than 20,000 people of all ages and occupations seeking personal renewal took place not far from Paintsville.

Today’s Great Awakening is about the Arts and Community. About using the tools of creativity enhancement to establish social networks that foster personal growth and shape more fulfilling places to work and live.

In The Great Awakening of our time, small towns like Paintsville will be the dynamic epicenter of creative revival.

And a hundred, thousand BobFests will provide the joyous, soul-shaking soundtrack.


BobFest Performers:

  • Amy Beshara and Max Carmichael
  • Amalia and The Impossible Crayons
  • Andrew O’Rourke
  • Black Lace Blues
  • Bleau Jay
  • John Grannis
  • Jolly Rotten Skeletons
  • Josie Little
  • Luna & The Mountain Jets
  • Miss Lissa & Company
  • Neal Spears & Unit 31
  • The Butch Ross Experience
  • Van Lear Black

Article Featured Image:@ Phoebe Del Boccio

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