Princeton, WV—RiffRaff Arts Collective (RRAC) is thrilled to release the second music video in their original program, “We Need to Talk,” a movement using music videos and docu-shorts to build bridges, stoke dialogue, and catalyze community healing. The video is called “Compassion and Contrast,” featuring the original music of songwriter and musician James Hart, a teacher at Stages Music School in The Grassroots District of downtown Princeton. The video is now available at theriffraff.net/weneedtotalk, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.
The public is invited to a video screening and Community Conversation on Thursday, July 20th at 7pm at Stages Music School at 855 Mercer Street. Participants will enjoy a screening of the music video as well as the premiere of the docushort, followed by facilitated conversation. Of this event, organizers say, “Together, we’ll dive deeper into the inspiration behind the song and videos, enjoy drinks and snacks from Wild Roots Coffeehouse, and get to know each other.”
About We Need to Talk: RRAC is creating sweeping, cinematic music videos featuring original music by artists within our community 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 stoke community dialogue, build relationships, and create a culture of listening. The project aims to empower community members to tell their stories and raise their voices. 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, on WOAY as part of their Community Forum, on WVVA as a part of their Sunday morning program, “In Focus,” as part of RRAC’s annual arts programming and at special community conversations at a variety of locations. Compassion and Contrast is the second of eight music videos and docushorts being created. Director Lori McKinney says that the collective is so inspired by this program that they have decided to continue it indefinitely, beyond the originally planned eight-video series, making We Need to Talk a core part of the organization’s programming. The community can expect many more videos like this, McKinney says.
The first video, which was released in January, featuring the original song by Option 22, “The Time is Now,” was warmly received by the community. The video explores the value and impact of kindness, and demonstrates that the ways we treat each other, matter. The song encourages opening our hearts and minds to varying perspectives, and urges that it matters now, more than ever.
The second video, Compassion and Contrast, premiered on WOAY’s Community Forum this past Sunday, and was released online on Tuesday, July 11. There will be a Community Conversation on Thursday, July 20th at Stages Music School at 855 Mercer Street, and all are invited to attend. The evening will feature a special guest facilitator, Valentina Muraleedharan of WVU’s Center for Resilient Communities. Valentina is a graduate student in Geography at WVU, with a background in community building, facilitation, and grassroots educational efforts, and is motivated by meaningful conversations and story-telling as tools for social change.
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 city council meetings, at Princeton Public Library, at open public gatherings, and more. Compassion and Contrast will be presented at the July meeting of Princeton City Council. 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.” said 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 had become a microcosm of WV’s woes, suffering 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. The collective began its creative placemaking mission with Culturefest World Music & Arts Festival in 2004, promoting unity and respect for diversity and, since then, has brought people together through weekly open stage nights, concerts and several annual traditions like All Together Arts Week–a county-wide celebration designed to inspire collaboration. In 2013, RRAC teamed with local nonprofit Community Connections and The City on Princeton Renaissance Project, which yielded over 40 public works of art, a community garden, dozens of creative businesses, remarkable youth engagement and several colorful traditions like The Downtown Countdown, a multi-stage music & arts festival on NYE. “Mercer Street Grassroots District” is now flourishing with life and nearing maximum capacity. 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, WVU Center for Resilient Communities, The City of Princeton, Community Connections, WVVA and others.
Co-Founder and Executive Director of RRAC Lori McKinney says, “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.”