From the outset, RFK in EKY hoped to bring together a diverse constituency to not only remember RFKs 1968 visit, but to discuss and critically evaluate the whole notion of poverty reduction, community and economic development, and local initiative in southeastern Kentucky. The project, with its strong roots in community partnership, created both a remarkable and highly accessible work of art, and a forum to invigorate community conversation and spotlight the many people and organizations working to make eastern Kentucky a better place. Through its multiple documentation strategies, the project will continue to reach new constituencies.
The project provides an example of a mutually beneficial relationship between community and artist both the desire for inclusive, critical dialogue about pressing issues and the impetus to challenge and expand the role of the arts in community have been met, and both continue to drive the project. From participant, audience, and community feedback, a strong value has been established, a constituency created, for the process and product of RFK in EKY.
Working in a rural area without substantial arts patronage; using a traditional format (the recreated historical spectacle) to facilitate an informed public dialogue and analysis of current issues; moving actors and audience to a higher level of interaction and ownership; and creating a massive, multi-media theater piece over two days and two hundred miles, RFK in EKY managed to provide an intimate and thought-provoking public space through its dedication to truthfulness and openness to a wide range of community voices and expertise. Measures of its success include the willingness of almost every participant to engage in further arts-based projects and the recognition of community partners of its usefulness in their work leading to the development of new, community-initiated, projects tackling even more problematic issues.
Certainly the prime mover and locus of the projects energy is John Malpede, as was Kennedy in the 1968 tour, but it is his commitment (again, like Kennedys) to painstaking organization, thoughtful inclusion, and validation of community knowledge that made the project a valuable experience for everyone involved. The projects flexibility, its ability to improvise while maintaining absolute aim at its goals, allowed the community to experience and enjoy an approach to work and problem solving outside of past frameworks and a chance to see arts practice as a useful tool.
Critical to this success were several key elements in the projects design and execution: an extended time frame, which allowed almost four years for research, development, and production; a dedicated and philosophically attuned artistic and organizational staff given the freedom and resources to accomplish the projects goals; and the broad commitment to encouraging and including community-initiated ideas, information, and feedback.
Those involved in the project, at all levels, like those involved in Kennedys original tour, were able to see in themselves the citizen hero, the diligent proponent of better community, the careful listener, the voice worth listening to and to recognize their connectedness and agency in matters and policies beyond their local community.