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The Augusta Heritage Center: Preserving the Past; Building Community

Since its inception in 1973, the Augusta Heritage Center, located on the Davis & Elkins College campus in Elkins, West Virginia, has facilitated cultural education through immersive and experiential workshops in music, craft, dance, foodways, and folklore. Dedicated to bringing folk arts education to underserved communities, the Center provides access to cultural experiences to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity. Not only is it a way to preserve the past while promoting cultural heritage, but the goal is also to build community. A more inclusive and culturally rich society is established by celebrating local talent, documenting traditions, and providing a space for the community to gather and connect.

The Augusta Heritage Center provides a variety of camps, conferences, workshops, and other events throughout the year—immersive events that often last for several days. Camps are held during the summer on the scenic campus of Davis & Elkins College and year-round on the road.

The program's flagship summer camps, the Augusta Summer Heritage Workshops, will be held July 9 through 29. This summer will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the workshops. This year's workshops include Classic Country, Cajun and Swing Week, July 9 through 14; Bluegrass and Vocal Week, July 16 through 21; Blues and Old-Time Week, July 23 through 28; and the month will conclude with the Augusta Festival and Celebration Concert, held in Elkins City Park on July 29. Also offered are craft classes and a program for children during each week of music classes.

Emily Miller serves as the artistic director for Augusta Heritage Center. She is also the String Band director for the college's Appalachian Ensemble and a professional singer and fiddle player.

"I grew up coming to Augusta with my family," says Emily, who puts a lot of effort into designing kids' programs that support parents and grandparents who want to experience Augusta with their families. "Folk Arts for Kids gives children ages five to 11 a meaningful educational experience with other kids while their parents are diving into fiddle or banjo or stained glass or whatever interests them."

This summer's program has been finalized, and Emily says it will be a great one. "I'm excited for the fabulous artists we have coming to teach as part of the bluegrass program this summer. Tammy King of the Steeldrivers will be with us, as well as Missy Raines, BB Bowness, Joe Newbury, Greg Blake, Tyler Grant, and so many more. As a bonus, bluegrass students can cross over to the Vocal Week classes to study with Robin & Linda Williams, Abby Washburn and other members of that great staff."

Other events are held at the Center and online year-round, designed to broaden the participants' horizons, from concerts and dances to cultural sessions and more. For example, the Center offers the "Cooking in Community: Foodways Traditions from Appalachia and Beyond" series with support from Mid-Atlantic Arts' Central Appalachia Living Traditions program. Classes are taught by experienced chefs and home cooks with diverse backgrounds yet representative of Appalachia today.

Another service the Center provides is an online archive of concerts, interviews, musical recordings, and oral histories. The Augusta Archive contains a wealth of cultural knowledge spanning nearly 100 years. With 943 entries, the living archive grows as the material is collected from the field and digitized. The goal is to make the material as accessible as possible, with no barriers due to cost.

Seth Young serves as the executive director of the Augusta Heritage Center. Seth is a lifelong musician and performer who has spent most of his career as a music educator. He and Emily were hired on the same day, June 2, 2019. "It was exciting because we both had connections to Augusta Heritage Center as children." Seth first became involved with the Center when he took a mini class in Blues harmonica. He became more interested in music during high school and went to Augusta during his teen years to learn more about the music in his geographic region.

"When Emily and I were hired, we had independent paths, but we both had a lot of ideas and passion. Our first summer here, we acted out the plan that was left for us. But the next year, we were super excited to put into action our own plan." Then, the pandemic hit. "We had to pivot quickly, and I felt like we were reinventing our program every few months for a couple of years."

Seth says he is looking forward to this summer's programming. "It's our fiftieth year. For something to last that long, it was meant to be." Seth says they are looking forward to the future. "We have formed our own 501(c)(3), and we have formed a Board of Directors. A capital campaign is underway to help us acquire and renovate an old building in downtown Elkins that can be used for programming year-round. We are also partnering with state and national parks that have beautiful lodging."

Tessa Dillon and Josh Wanstreet are the AmeriCorps members. Tessa is also a fiddle player who teaches college students at West Virginia University, while Josh plays old-time fiddle and guitar. Eric Armstrong is the technical director of the Center.

Information on the workshops, camps and events can be found on the Augusta Heritage Center website.

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