NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — The Wetzel County Museum in New Martinsville is housing an immersive video art installation this summer, part of a pilot arts program at Magnolia High School.

A project of the regional Rural Arts Collaborative, the exhibit was conceived with the help of Michael McKowen, an accomplished artist and filmmaker, Magnolia alumnus and an art professor at Wheeling Jesuit University. He described the work as "so unfiltered, so raw and pure.

"I think that's the strength of everything we've done here," he said.

The artistic process began with research about Wetzel County and a list of questions for students about what life is like in the Ohio Valley.

Some questions for students:

If you could describe Wetzel County in one word, what would it be and why?

What has been the most challenging thing about living in Wetzel County?

What are your aspirations and goals? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

Some student answers:

My cousin was murdered.

This town is full of people I don't want my children growing up with.

Wetzel County taught me that education is important.

McKowen said the resulting exhibit was a reflection of students perceptions of life growing up in New Martinsburg, Wetzel County and West Virginia.

"So what we've done is basically packaged it," McKowen said. "We've created this video installation so that you can see their (point of view)."

McKowen said the challenge was to turn abstract ideas into art.

"One of the things they talked about a lot is confinement," McKowen said. "It's about being in the Ohio Valley, not having a lot of resources or experiences available to you."

With the support of the vocational and agricultural shop at Magnolia High, as well as other classes, students built a shed with corrugated metal, lumber and an earth floor that visitors can walk through. Video footage of day-in-the-life scenes are embedded into screens in the floor and projected on a drop-cloth ceiling.

Breena Napier, who will be a sophomore this fall, said she looked forward to working on the year-long project every week. Along with 27 classmates, she collected footage of moments in her everyday life, including "streams, closeups of light, my goats.

"Goats are my life and I don't think I could live without them," she added with a laugh.

Carmelle Nickens, manager of the Rural Arts Collaborative, said this is the first video installation project she's seen come from the program she founded six years ago.

"They were able to really able to display their emotions on how they feel about living in this community," she said. "What they like, what they don't like, what they're sad about, what they're happy about. And that's really the essence of art."

The Collaborative was founded in 2012 in Pennsylvania. Resident musicians, dancers, painters, ceramicists and other creators often create public works of art. Artists are embedded now in 20 schools in Pennsylvania, and the project has now made its way into West Virginia. Pairing students and artists allows for critical creative development in regions that need it, Nickens said.

"I know what the arts can do for students in so many ways. It can help them succeed and help them be themselves. It's a new way of thinking, being and doing for students," she said.

Next year artists will embed in Weir High School, Brooke Middle School, John Marshall High School and across the river in Ohio in Bellaire Middle School. The program is funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Oglebay Institute.

___

Information from: WVPR-FM, http://www.wvpubcast.org/news.aspx