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Save Our Towns: Artists lead downtown renaissance in Princeton, West Virginia

February 28, 2017

mural in downtown Princeton

mural painted on large building wall in downtown Princeton
Artists in Princeton, West Virginia, helped jumpstart the revitalization of the city’s formerly seedy downtown area.

Princeton, West Virginia, once thrived as a railroad town, but like so many other areas in Appalachia, the coal industry's decline did damage.

The latest episode of Save Our Towns shows how city leaders embraced an often-ignored group to lead its revival.

Young artists spearheaded early efforts to reinvent Princeton’s downtown area. Among the leaders was town native Lori McKinney, who founded the RiffRaff Arts Collective in 2003. The group opened galleries, hosted open mic nights, and started an annual Culturefest.

Rather than dismiss the creative initiatives by the collective, city leaders embraced the local artists, and the Princeton Renaissance Project sprang into being. A mural-painting project spiffed up downtown, businesses filled in vacant storefronts, and the renovation of the town’s historic theater drew near completion.

Graduate student Maxwell Vandervliet, of New York City, a master's student of urban and regional planning in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, tackles the topic of women farmers in his monthly segment, Maxwell’s Number.

This month’s project from Virginia Cooperative Extension also focuses on farming. Kim Niewolny, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, directs the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition program.

Save Our Towns, created and produced by Outreach and International Affairs, is a series of monthly video episodes designed for mayors in small-town Appalachian Virginia and other leaders who are working to improve the economic life of their communities.

The show returns to Cleveland, Virginia, the town being followed for a year, to introduce new mayor Jennifer Chumbley, who outlines improvements she envisions for the town.

Anthony Flaccavento, the founder and president of SCALE Inc., offers this month’s expert tip, encouraging town leaders to create jobs in their towns by taking stock of the work that needs to be done. He believes resilient economies can be built by meeting those needs.

Written by Melissa McKeown

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