Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts to focus on ‘Art and Coal in Appalachia’

Jennifer L. Hill March 20, 2024

Side-by-side portraits of speakers (left-right) Drs. Anne Lewis, David Blackley and Ted Olson.


“Art and Coal in Appalachia” is the focus of the 10th Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts at East Tennessee State University on Wednesday, April 3.

Held at ETSU’s James and Nellie Brinkley Center (formerly the Millennium Center), this free public event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a reception followed at 6 p.m. by music and a panel discussion featuring three notable scholars with expertise in the history of the coal industry and its influence on the art and health of the Appalachian region. It will also feature a Health Professional Student Art Display.

“For the last decade, the Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts has celebrated two of ETSU’s signature programs – the arts and health,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the College of Public Health. “With this event, we strive to both entertain and educate, and this year should be an exceptional opportunity to do both as we celebrate and focus on the Appalachian heritage of coal – how it is reflected in the music and film of the region and its impact on our health and well-being.”

Panelists include ETSU professor Dr. Ted Olson, filmmaker Dr. Anne Lewis and epidemiologist Dr. David Blackley.

Olson will speak on the “History of Coal in Appalachia.” A professor in the ETSU Department of Appalachian Studies, Olson is a cultural historian, editor, poet, photographer and musician. For many years, he has taught courses exploring Appalachia’s complex cultural history, including “Coal Mining and Appalachia.” He is a prolific author and serves as book series editor for the Charles K. Wolfe Music Series published by the University of Tennessee Press.

“Film as a Voice for Social Change” will be addressed by Lewis, who has made documentary films since the 1970s. She was an assistant director and camerawoman for “Harlan County, USA,” an Academy Award-winning 1976 documentary covering the 1973 “Brookside Strike” in Harlan County, Kentucky. She has also won awards for her films “Fast Food Women” and “On Our Own Land.” Lewis is associated with Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and is a professor of practice at the University of Texas-Austin.

Blackley, who will speak on “The Health Effects of Coal Mining,” works with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Morgantown, West Virginia. His early focus with NIOSH was on the epidemiology of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or “black lung,” and he led investigations identifying historically high levels of severe black lung among Appalachian coal miners. He has collaborated with the Zambian government to enhance respiratory health surveillance in that country’s mining workforce, and he deployed four times to Liberia and Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis.

Music will be provided by ETSU’s Twin Taters, one of the student bands in the university’s Bluegrass, Old-Time and Roots Music Studies.

The event will be livestreamed at etsu.edu/cph/livestream.php.

In addition to the Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts, “Art and Coal in Appalachia” includes two events on Tuesday, April 2, featuring Oscar-nominated filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon.  

The Reece Museum will host an artist talk by McMillion Sheldon titled “Documenting Appalachia” at 1:30 p.m. She will also be in attendance when “King Coal,” her 2023 documentary that “meditates on the complex history and future of the coal industry,” will be screened at 5 p.m. in the Bud Frank Theatre in Gilbreath Hall.

The Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts is part of the ongoing Leading Voices in Public Health Lecture Series sponsored by ETSU’s College of Public Health. It is co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and its departments of Media and Communications and Appalachian Studies, as well as the Gold Humanism Honor Society of the Quillen College of Medicine.

For more information, call the College of Public Health at (423) 439-4243.   For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at (423) 439-8346.


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