Stretching from New York to Georgia, there are numerous creative people in the communities of Appalachia. They’re on the mountains, hills, tucked into hollows and along the beautiful waterways of one of America’s greatest regions.
Wheeling is an Appalachian rust-belt city that has experienced an arts renaissance and hopes to continue that growth. The city is in the wild and wonderful state that Appalachia encompasses more of than any other state — West Virginia.
Historically, Wheeling and cities across Appalachia have great traditions of being a melting pot for immigrants. These people brought their rich cultural traditions and fought to make a home here. Many of the traditions that those people brought with them still remain in Wheeling and other cities throughout Appalachia today.
Just as there was a diverse community built as a result of those immigrants, Wallace, Schmitt and Knollinger are seeking to connect a larger community — or, in other words, to connect a larger network of existing artists and communities.
Today, Wheeling and many communities throughout Appalachia have become a melting pot for a diverse community of creative people. They’re artists, musicians, storytellers, songwriters, writers, food artists and – yes – even sandwich artists. These people have a pioneering spirit. They choose to live here, pave their own path and make Appalachian cities culturally richer as a result. This podcast seeks to learn more about these incredible Appalachians and what makes their creative communities great.
The idea started pretty simply between two longtime friends. Logan Schmitt is the brilliant artist behind Logan Schmitt Illustration, and Will Wallace is the proprietor of Wheeling’s Clientele Art Studio. Schmitt and Wallace were discussing a way to find out more about the artists of Appalachia that they loved. They realized that creating a new podcast could help initiate those conversations and in a larger picture could connect the community of Appalachian artists. Soon, Corey Knollinger would join the two and assist in the technical production of the podcast.
The new podcast was named Clientele Presents: Appalachian Sound and Color. As described by Wallace in their preview podcast episode, the premise wouldn’t necessarily be to sit down with an artist, musician, food artist or other creative people to find out why they created something specific — but to find out why they pursued art in general and what made them stay in and choose Appalachia as their home. Finally, the podcast expresses their appreciation for Appalachia, and it will aim to help people learn more about Wheeling.
Wheeling has countless incredible creative subjects for the podcast. Therefore, they knew they had a great starting point and focus. However, they also knew there was a larger network of artists in Appalachia. In other words, the podcast would always be Wheeling-inclusive in their focus on Appalachia, but not exclusive. By not being exclusive, the hope is to continue to draw attention to Wheeling.
“We’re going to have a lot of local artists on at first, but we’re going to grab as many [artists] from as far as possible, mostly just so we can build a bigger audience base at first. So once that light is on, then we can narrow it down to what we have going on right here. But it [Wheeling] is always going to be spoken about,” said Wallace.
“West Virginia is interesting,” Schmitt added, “I always feel like it is a big city spread out across the entire state. So, if we were doing a podcast that was on just New York City artists, it would go on forever and ever. But in West Virginia and Appalachia, you can kind of reach out to these different spots and find all these people who might not be quite as local but they’re doing amazing things.”
Wallace continued, “Even if people don’t listen to it, we’re going to keep talking to different artists from different parts of Appalachia — whether it be from upstate New York down to Georgia, and each one we talk to is going to find out Wheeling is cool, has great artists and has a great arts scene. That’s only going to help the city.”
There are tremendous opportunities and a vibrant cultural scene in Wheeling and throughout many Appalachian cities. Clientele Presents: Appalachian Sound and Color hopes to accent those opportunities, the great happenings and shine needed light upon those exciting parts of the city and Appalachia.
“People need to see that there’s cool stuff happening,” said Wallace.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” added Schmitt. “A lot of Wheeling is kind of like a blank slate. You can kind of just move in and start doing stuff, if you have the means to do it. With the group of people you have here, I think it’s definitely possible.”
These opportunities in small communities allow for the relationships to be developed with other like-minded people. “The cool thing about Wheeling is that it’s not really that hard to get connected to people who are doing cool things,” added Knollinger. This connectivity is fostering a creative environment that can be extremely helpful, regardless of age.
Many would ask: why here? Why would these creative people choose to make this place their home instead of a larger metropolitan area like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles?
“People don’t question you when you do things you think are cool, as long as you have a sense of purpose,” explained Knollinger. “Within reason, you can kind of just do whatever you want as long as you have some kind of vision behind it, and no one will question it. They’ll be pretty supportive of it.”
“There’s also the community and willingness to help. People are just nice,” added Schmitt.
Subscribe to Weelunk
Developing a creative support system, even if it is subconsciously by citizens, is reassuring and helpful for these creative people. In some other areas, the creative process can be more restrictive.
In the end, there may be another benefit than just building a community of existing creative people and connecting communities.
“I would love to see some college or high school students get the idea that you don’t have to leave Appalachia or Wheeling really to do whatever you want to do,” added Schmitt.
This would allow for Appalachian communities in the future to be even more creative, diverse, and have additional opportunities for economic growth.
I’m an event manager and event production manager. That is certainly not as much of a creative occupation as the brilliant people on this podcast.
However, like many of the people on this podcast, I had dreams of bringing the best pieces of experiences from outside Appalachia back to region in order to improve our city’s future. For me, I hoped to bring pieces of great entertainment communities that I know and love back to the Wheeling. Hopefully, I’ve done some of that in my career.
No matter your occupation, skill level or your current circumstances, I believe that it is important to stay creative and continue to innovate. I also believe continued connection with your community is important.
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling throughout every corner of West Virginia. With my free time, I would travel to appreciate our state’s natural beauty hiking and taking photos in the backwoods. Many times it would be spent better understanding its music traditions at the many festivals, gatherings and fairs.
In these travels, it was apparent that different regions of the state are extremely disconnected from each other. For example, the Northern Panhandle can feel like a completely separate state from the Eastern Panhandle. There are more examples of this by region. Into the broader Appalachian region, it certainly feels even more disconnected.
This is one of the many reasons why Clientele Presents: Appalachian Sound and Color is a great concept. It connects people as a community. It does not only connect creative people, it connects all listeners to the stories and happenings of the podcast’s guests and their communities. Suddenly the mountains, hills, hollows and rivers will not seem to separate us as much.
However, what is it specifically about our little piece of Appalachia that makes it so special? Wheeling, West Virginia. Why do we want to make this place our home? I think the answer may be found in what we choose to see.
Perhaps most importantly, I see the friendly and supportive people of this city — people who do want to see you succeed and are willing to help you along the way.
These raw ingredients do not exist everywhere. They come together to make this place a unique and wonderful place to live. For creative people, it is the unique creative and social environment that they are seeking.
I love Appalachia, just like Will, Logan and Corey do, and have spent many years trying to understand its culture better. There is something nearly palpable about what makes the natural beauty, tradition, and culture of these hills and hollows great.
That’s what is so great about Clientele Presents: Appalachian Sound and Color podcast. The podcast will bring a better understanding to a mass audience about a diverse group of creative people from Appalachia. We will be the beneficiaries to understanding the subjects of the podcast better.
In the process, the podcast will seek to learn why others call this place home. Whether they are deeply rooted, left and returned, or are strangers to Appalachia from elsewhere, all of the subjects of this podcast will learn more about the place that this podcast now calls home — Wheeling.
In the words of Hazel Dickens in West Virginia, My Home, “In the dead of the night in the still and the quiet / I slip away like a bird in flight / Back to those hills — the place that I call home.”
• Kyle Knox, born and raised in Marshall County, West Virginia, is a long-time events industry professional with years of experience working at various venues and events throughout the tri-state area, including The Capitol Theatre, WesBanco Arena, Jamboree In The Hills, Heritage Music BluesFest and the Wheeling Symphony. Before returning to the Wheeling area, Kyle also worked in the events industry in Pittsburgh. Kyle is passionate about music, Appalachian history and culture, nature and local sustainable foods. He is a 2013 graduate of West Liberty University and became a contributing writer for Weelunk in 2020.