This Putnam County native made it her mission to promote Appalachian art.
Growing up in Scott Depot, filmmaker Jillian Howell didn’t find many opportunities for aspiring artists like herself. “That sent the message to me that having a career in the arts and being a West Virginian were two mutually exclusive things,” Howell says. So she headed off to the University of North Carolina Wilmington to pursue film studies and hopefully make some connections with folks in the industry.
Then, a surprising twist. “I anticipated that my connection to get a job would come from film school,” Howell says, “but it didn’t. It came from West Virginia, from the close-knit community connections we have here.” After graduating from college in 2017, she became acquainted with one of her mother’s colleagues who had gone to work for Disney. This connection led to an internship—and ultimately, a job—at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Los Angeles, California, where she’s already worked on several large productions, including Frozen II and the upcoming Strange World.
Since moving to the West Coast, Howell has longed for ways to stay connected to West Virginia and promote the work of Appalachian artists—not only those in-state, but those who have relocated in pursuit of careers as well. That’s why, in 2020, she established Shine On, WV, a nonprofit dedicated to telling West Virginians’ stories and providing connections and guidance to folks pursuing careers in the arts.
Shine On, WV has produced several short educational videos—“micro-documentaries”—about West Virginia–native artists. Howell says they’ve been received extremely well and raised significant funds that the organization will use to expand its team, develop new content, and “change the narrative” for Appalachian artists. “I have some really big dreams for what this organization can be and what we can continue to do, whether that’s educational resources, coffee table books, or, in the future, art centers and classes—or just building the creative arts community together.”