For years, Mountaineer Week has brought Appalachian culture and art to the diverse audience of students hosted at WVU, with engagement in culture as its focus. This year, though, its staff was forced to find inventiveness.
“Our goal was student involvement, so trying to meet the students where they are right now,” Kristie Stewart-Gale, marketing and advertising manager at WVU Arts and Entertainment, said. “We’re very aware of Zoom fatigue right now, so that’s why we chose to do some of the kits that you can pick up and do some things with, as opposed to doing everything via Zoom.”
Stewart-Gale said because of that Zoom fatigue, the staff worked hard to find places where in-person activities were possible, like with the annual beard growing competition.
“It’s sort of a combination of in-person and online,” Stewart-Gale said. “So what we did was we had competitors sign up for a time to do their shaving in a socially distant atmosphere, and then we took photos of their clean-shaven faces, and those are up on the website as well, and then we’re going to do the judging in-person, but not with an audience.”
In terms of audience activities, Stewart-Gale said there are not many opportunities for in-person events.
“Really the only in-person thing that we’re able to do is putting some live music in the food court for WVUp All Night,” She said. “But what we’re doing there is we’re putting them on a stage on the food court behind a plexiglass shield, and then the audience will have to remain in the commons area in the dining seating. We’re also going to stream it on our Facebook and Instagram accounts.”
The live music includes the dulcimer music of Jeff Fedan, the hooky musical stylings of Emily Lehr, who recently signed with Mon Hills Music Group and the bluegrass and folk trio The Honeysuckle Vines.
“The three of them [the Honeysuckle Vines] actually met in the Appalachian music ensemble here on campus, so they’re pretty perfect for Mountaineer Week,” Stewart-Gale said.
According to Stewart-Gale, putting on a memorable event was not without its obstacles.
“It was definitely challenging,” Stewart-Gale said. “Most of the time when Mountaineer Week starts on campus, it’s very noticeable because we kick off the week with our arts and crafts fair in the Mountainlair, and we have food vendors outside, you know, funnel cakes and whatnot, but of course we weren’t able to do that this year. We were, however, able to work with some artisans and help them to promote their small businesses right now, which we’re pretty proud of.”
Stewart-Gale said what Mountaineer Week ultimately comes down to is WVU students and Appalachian culture.
“For me, it’s the student involvement,” Stewart-Gale said. “I’d like to see the students participate in our heritage and learn about the things that have been passed down in Appalachian culture. Of course we’re always evolving and changing, so I think that growth is important as well, and I think you see that in some of the photos that have been submitted. Any time students get involved in the work we’re doing, that’s the best part for me.”