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Film Premiere to Illuminate Kentucky’s Energy Future

In the fall of 2015, Kentucky filmmaker Ben Evans bought his first electric car, a used Nissan LEAF. This week his new documentary film, EVOLVE: Driving a Clean Future in Coal Country, premieres at the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington. It is a “one night only” showing. The film is about electric cars, their evolving place in Kentucky transportation, and the reach of the new energy economy into Eastern Kentucky, long the dominion of Big Coal.

“After I got my LEAF,” said Evans, “it was in the spring of 2016 when I was contacted by Stuart Ungar to see if I’d make a short promotional film about Evolve KY.” Evolve KY is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization of electric vehicle owners and enthusiasts that Ungar co-founded in Louisville to promote electrified personal transportation. Evans was known for his award-winning films, YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip and NERVE.

“This kind of followed a similar creative trajectory to my previous film NERVE,” said Evans. He was contacted in 2014 by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation to make a film short about KEF and its work with the issues of chemical weapons disposal at the Bluegrass Army Depot in Richmond. The project expanded into a full-fledged documentary, over an hour in length. EVOLVE also became a full-length documentary, about an hour in length.

“What happens,” said Evans, “is that, as I learn more, the initial subject becomes increasingly interconnected with others, and I end up feeling like I can’t do it justice within a short promotional format. I like things that have a story arc and emotional connection.” As with NERVE, Evans, with concerned parties, undertook an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in order to raise money for the EVOLVE film.

Behind the wheel of a Tesla in Whitesburg, KY

Evans says the film starts with a focus on electric cars in Kentucky and the work of Evolve KY, then reaches into Eastern Kentucky energy. “It was important to me to get out to Eastern Kentucky and explore what’s going on out there with the energy transition because this relates directly to how we’re powering our electrified transportation future,” he said. “It’s a part of the country where they’ve been locked into a boom and bust coal economy for a long time, and as the world moves away from coal, they’re trying to figure out what comes next and how they can be a part of it. I was surprised to see how eager a lot of these communities are to find sustainable foundations for their economic future. They understand much more than what they are often given credit for by the national media, and, at the end of the day, they just want durable jobs that will let them stay in their communities with their families. All the better if they can build something that will preserve their mountain heritage.”

The film shines light on the solar farm created in Winchester by the Eastern KY Power Cooperative. The University of Kentucky Solar Car Team is also featured.

UK Solar Car Team

A visit to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham finds an array of rooftop solar panels that have been built onto the museum, marking a potent symbol of change.


Kent Lewis on top of the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum

Then the film takes an in-depth view of EnerBlu.

EnerBlu proposes to become a very big deal for Kentucky. Its executive headquarters are in Lexington, while its manufacturing facilities will be atop the former Marion Branch coal mine, 154 flattened acres in the mountains of Pikeville that will be home for the production of advanced energy storage batteries based on eLTO technology.

The company will bring approximately 1,000 jobs to the region, and its technology will advance the renewable energy sector. It will be the first manufacturing company in the U.S. to work with this specific kind of battery technology, though that technology was first developed here.

The film also features Adam Edelen, founder of Edelen Strategic Ventures, who is spearheading plans for a 50-100 megawatt solar installation in Pike County. It would be the largest solar installation in this part of the country, and would also occupy another vast former mountaintop removal mining site. “Bringing Republicans and Democrats together is far easier than bringing together solar developers and coal executives,” Edelen said to Kentucky Today. “But we’ve got it and we’re doing this big important thing; and if it works, it will be transformative.” The project would retrain 400 out-of-work coal miners for jobs at the installation.

Kenny Stanley of Berkeley Energy Group on the site of a future 50-100 megawatt solar farm

“There’s a certain poetic justice in the possibility that some of these mountains that were sacrificed to extract coal might now be able to help save other mountains by showing new paths to sustainable energy production, job creation, and prosperity,” said Evans.

The film’s soundtrack includes Kentucky musicians. Evans says he has a good working relationship with Gill Holland, who founded the Kentucky record label, SonaBLAST!, giving the filmmaker access to much of that catalog. Kentucky artists on the soundtrack include the “new folk” band Beady, Ben Sollee, Bastion, and The Pass. Evans also included music by Owen Evans, his younger brother out in Arizona. 

The premiere of EVOLVE is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 6, at the Kentucky Theater and is being presented by EnerBlu, UK Student Government, and Evolve KY. Tickets can be purchased at KentuckyTheater.com or at the door, and UK students with student IDs will have free admission. Two or three electric vehicles will be parked in front of the theater that evening for a pre-screening EV showcase. A post-screening panel discussion with stars of the film will include Michael Weber, Executive Chairman of EnerBlu; Adam Edelen, Founder of Edelen Strategic Ventures; Wrensey Gill, VP of Evolve KY and Director of the Lexington Chapter; members of the UK Solar Car Team; and the filmmaker.

For tickets and information, click here.

Ben Evans gets a thumbs up from the film’s audio engineer Jordon Ellis

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Artists’ Live-Work Space Planned for East Side

“This is where I was born and spent the early years of my childhood, about two blocks over on East Fifth Street,” said Mark Lenn Johnson, President of Art Inc. Kentucky (AIK). We were walking across a rough grass field on Lexington’s East Side, headed toward the development site of AIK’s Artist Village, a project which merges Johnson’s expertise in small business development and his passion as an artist – he recently received international recognition for his artwork; more on that later.

AIK is a business and marketing incubator for artists and creative entrepreneurs operated by Community Ventures, a statewide non-profit organization that for over 35 years has brought economic development to underserved communities across Kentucky by helping individuals and families to start and run businesses and own their own homes. Twenty years ago, Johnson began his work in the small and micro business development industry with Community Ventures. He went on to work for several years with the Bluegrass Small Business Development Center, then spent nine years running the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s Small Business Services Division. After five years back at Community Ventures, he’s now launching AIK.

The idea of AIK was inspired in great part by Johnson’s experience as an artist. He had a quick rise to international recognition for his art, considering that the work he gained recognition for he discovered and developed starting in 2015.

Johnson’s creative journey began in 2005 when he began working with polymer clay, creating beadwork and jewelry, which he soon found markets for. In 2010, he left polymer clay behind and began working with art glass under the tutelage of Laura Hollock, a well-known glass artist who ran Hollock Stained Glass in Lexington before retiring. With several kilns in his studio, Johnson creates beautiful art glass vessels which he sells through various outlets.

In 2015, flooding in Johnson’s studio temporarily shut down the kilns. It was during that lull in his glass work that his attention was captured by a mess on the kitchen counter. He and his sons had paints out. Johnson found himself transfixed by the sight of paint pigments swirling in puddles of water on the countertop. This inspired him to experiment, and he soon captured photographs of droplets of dye billowing into the water. That series of photographs he titled Water Silks.

From “Water Silk” series by Mark Lenn Johnson

Then came his Color Swims, a series of images that captured color pigments moving through milk. He found that soured milk created eye-catching effects. He manipulated colors using brushes, spoons and air blowing from a hairdryer.

“Color Swims” by Mark Lenn Johnson

Color Swims was followed by Johnson’s stunning Fountain Fall series, which he describes as “high-speed water drop photography.”

From “Fountain Fall” series by Mark Lenn Johnson

He began posting images of this new body of work on Facebook. Artblend, an art gallery and publisher based in Fort Lauderdale, contacted Johnson, inviting him to exhibit his work at Art Expo 2016 in New York City, touted as the world’s largest fine arts trade show. A Finnish art gallery owner attending the Expo invited Johnson to exhibit his work at the spring, 2017 Art Shopping exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, France.  As a result of that exhibit, ArtTour International Magazine saw Johnson’s work and named him one of their Top 60 International Masters of Contemporary Art for 2017. For that honor his photography was shown in the fall of 2017 at the ATIM Ceremony in Florence, Italy, where he received an award for his work.

Inspired and energized,  Johnson took a new direction with Community Ventures.  His vision: AIK would bring to life the arts incubator along with plans for Artist Village and an art gallery. Community Ventures already has two successful incubators, and Johnson has drawn on that organizational experience. The Center for Entrepreneurs on North Broadway in Lexington provides office space and support services for small businesses. Chef Space in Louisville provides culinary entrepreneurs with kitchen spaces and access to professional equipment for food preparation. Johnson’s vision for AIK calls for providing artists with an array of essential services for their work.

“We started by talking to a number of artists,” said Johnson. “We asked what they’d like to see out there to help them. A lot of the artists told us they knew the importance of websites and quality photography. The same with social media. But they just didn’t have the time or know how to deal with all that. And then there’s the need for assistance with setting up their businesses and dealing with legal issues. One of the most important things to artists is having the opportunities to sell their artwork. So, we took all of that into consideration when we developed AIK. We’re dedicated to helping artists and entrepreneurs in creative industries build their business, gain exposure and generate revenue while helping boost the local economy.”

For enlarged view, click: Artist-Village-Illustrative

AIK 21 artists have signed up for different levels of support, Johnson said. They include painters, woodworkers, novelists, and photographers. The incubator is also open to creative entrepreneurs, such as fashion designers and chefs. “We try to make it as affordable as possible for as many artists as possible,” he said.

On Goodloe Street, on the East Side, stands the old Stanley Fizer, Incorporated building that was constructed back in the 1940s. It is now boarded up where windows and skylights once lit the interior. “My Daddy built that,” said Teddy Fizer of Fizer Mechanical.

Image of old Fizer building taken in 1940s. Workers lined up with service trucks.

“It was back during World War II, and timber beams weren’t available,”Fizer continued. “My Daddy drove up into the mountains and bought those timber beams and trucked them back. You can see those beams on the inside crossing up top and down the sides. The concrete floor was poured over ash. Back then people were burning coal for heat up and down the street, so that ash was put down and the concrete was poured, and that’s the reason that concrete floor looks the way it does.” Teddy said he’s the one who sold the building to Community Ventures.

The old Fizer building as it will appear after rehabilitation as the gallery | Credit: Bobby Morris, AIA LEED AP BD+C, Morris Workshop Architects, pllc

The plan is to convert the old Fizer building into a retail art gallery with studio spaces for artists.  Stretching behind the building is an acre of barren land. That land combined with the land that stretches along Warnock Street will become home to Artist Village, a series of over 10 residences to be built on either side of an open green space. The residences will range in size from 700 to 1,300 square feet. Each residence will have an attached art studio the size of a one car garage with a garage door that opens onto the green space. The green space, Johnson says, will be the site of art fairs with visiting artists exhibiting beneath canopy tents. A wide walking path originating under an arch on Third Street will lead into the village, where visitors can peruse exhibits, visit the gallery and meet the resident artists in their studios where art can be purchased.

Mark Lenn Johnson shares his vision

Johnson says the city has granted the appropriate zoning for all of these activities. He also said several artists have funding lined up to buy residences and live in the Village. He hopes to break ground on the project in July. Rehabilitation of the old Fizer building is currently underway and will be completed after a capital campaign has achieved its funding goal.

“This is a passion project for me,” said Johnson. “It’s an opportunity to return to my old neighborhood and help artists while helping to reinvigorate the community.”

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Distracted Healers

Scores of doctors serving patients across Kentucky are from the six Muslim-majority countries under President Trump’s revised temporary travel ban. Those doctors, many of them in underserved rural areas, provide over 100,000 appointments in a year. Across the U.S. there are about 7,000 practicing doctors from those six countries.

These statistics come from a recent study by Harvard and MIT research economists. Their work also found that a large proportion of these doctors are cardiologists and neurologists, specialists much in demand because of the immediate attention required to treat people with heart attacks and brain injuries.

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An estimated 25 percent of all physicians working in the U.S. are foreign born, according to the American Medical Association. Some are immigrants, and some are non-immigrants who received their medical training in the U.S. and are here temporarily with special visas. Many of these doctors are working in underserved communities providing treatments for patients’ needs that would otherwise go unmet – unmet because of an ongoing shortage of doctors.

The Association of American Medical Colleges in March released its updated study projecting a shortage of doctors in the U.S. that could reach as high as 104,900 by the year 2030. That breaks down into shortfalls of up to 43,100 primary care physicians and up to 61,800 specialty physicians.

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The shortage of doctors is a longstanding one. In 1994 Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota introduced a bill that has evolved into the Conrad 30 Program, which allows foreign-born doctors who received their medical training in the U.S. to apply for temporary visas to practice here in exchange for a commitment to work full-time for three years at a medical facility in a designated underserved area.

In early March, the White House rolled out a revised anti-Muslim travel ban which was immediately blocked on constitutional grounds by federal courts, the same fate of its predecessor. But the administration’s intent has been made clear, prompting The American Medical Association to write to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “The AMA is concerned,” stated the letter, “that this executive order is negatively impacting patient access to care and creating unintended consequences for our nation’s health care system. Specifically, there are reports indicating that this executive order is affecting both current and future physicians as well as medical students and residents who are providing much needed care to some of our most vulnerable patients.”

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Further complicating the situation, as reported in the New York Times, the government has altered processing rules for H-1B Visas. The temporary H-1B Visa allows highly skilled foreign workers to join the U.S. workforce. The majority of these visas have been used for high-technology and engineering enterprises, and that use has been mired in controversy with claims that qualified U.S. workers in some cases have been displaced by cheaper foreign workers. Doctors from foreign countries who have received their medical training in the U.S. also require the H-1B Visa to work here. Starting on April 3rd, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is suspending for up to six months the expedited processing for the H-1B Visas, which, for a fee, could have the visa approved usually within a couple of weeks, otherwise the process can take months. Medical facilities that rely on expedited visas to fill doctor vacancies will be left without critical services for an uncertain period of time.

The atmosphere encouraged by the anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration certainly is having negative impacts. Consider that there are near 50,000 Indian physicians practicing medicine in the U.S. providing hundreds of thousands of medical appointments and treatments for patients. On February 22nd, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian engineer, was shot and killed and his fellow Indian friend wounded at a bar in Kansas. The shooter, it’s reported, mistook them for Iranians. He shouted at them to get out of his country and fired on them. This incident shocked U.S. Indian communities and reverberated in the media of India. It’s impossible to discern how far reaching the negative impacts will be in the future. Is enrollment of foreign students at medical schools dropping and will less foreign doctors trained in the U.S. opt to practice medicine in the U.S. for underserved communities?

Photo credit: Baltimore Times

Photo credit: Baltimore Times

There are no medical school enrollment figures available for this piece. A spokesperson for the University of Kentucky Medical School wrote that it’s “too early to tell about any impact on College of Medicine recruitment. While we have a few international students enrolled in medical school, the majority are Kentucky residents.” What is known at this time is that some engineering schools are experiencing sharp declines in international applications, this according to the publication Science. The University of Massachusetts in Amherst has seen a 30 percent decline from the 2016 level of international applications for electrical and computer engineering programs. Vanderbuilt University in Nashville reports an 18percent decline in its international applications for the graduate level engineering department.

“University administrators worry,” reports Science, “that the declines…reflect heightened fears among foreign-born students that the United States is tightening its borders. A continued downturn, officials say, could threaten U.S. Global leadership in science and engineering by shrinking the pool of talent available to carry out academic research. It could also hinder innovation in industry, given that most foreign-born engineering students take jobs with U.S. companies after graduation.”

Such reports from other sectors may reflect as yet undiscerned trends in the medical world. There’s great risk here given our dependence on foreign doctors to help provide medical services to vulnerable and underserved populations in the U.S.

Related links:

What Immigrant Doctors Bring to America

Trump Travel Ban Spotlights U.S. Dependence On Foreign-Born Doctors

Rural Areas Brace for a Shortage of Doctors Due to Visa Policy

Physician Supply and Demand Through 2025

Will Trump’s Ban Cause Foreign-Born Doctors to Look Elsewhere?