Over her desk at the Disney Parks studio in Los Angeles, production coordinator Jillian Howell has a flag of West Virginia.
âI get attached to places very easily. So I really love Los Angeles – but I always say I’m a West Virginia, âshe said.
âWhen you’re out of state, you often become, like, the state ambassador just by talking about it and trying to support it. And so I think it’s just very important for the way other people see us, but also the way we see ourselves.
But at the start of her career, there didn’t seem to be many others near her home in Putnam County, West Virginia, doing the kind of work she wanted to do.
Like podcasters Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, the three Huntington brothers behind âMy Brother, My Brother and Meâ.
âPeople would be impressed if I knew them in Los Angeles, but people here didn’t know they were successful,â she lamented.
Another example was Zaiver Sinnett, a Ritchie County native who works with “Grey’s Anatomy” and writes for the ABC show “Station 19”.
Slowly, Howell developed a vision of West Virginia – and especially creative types – supporting and lifting each other up.
âI knew I wanted to do something for West Virginia in the creative fields. I just wanted to create easier access to the arts. â¦ There is so much talent hidden here. And I didn’t want it to be hidden anymore, âshe said.
With that, she launches Shine On, WV, a nonprofit umbrella designed to provide a platform for collecting and showcasing the creative work of West Virginia.
âMy hope is threefold: that people here see this and know that an artistic career is possible; if you are just an ordinary citizen of West Virginia I want you to be able to enjoy these videos and be proud of the people who come to our state; and then if you’re out of state seeing that the narrative of what West Virginia looks like is different than you might think, âshe explained.
âAnd it seems to be working. The video we have on Justin McElroy, someone commented and said, “The McElroys alone changed my opinion of West Virginia.”
Shine On, WV is in its infancy. Howell donates his own time but pays videographers to shoot stories about creative and successful West Virginia – nine so far, with three more in the editing phase.
âWhen you see someone with the same background as you doing something, it’s like, ‘Oh, you can. I can do it.’ That’s how I felt seeing (director) Elaine McMillion Sheldon, âbest known forâ Heroin (e), âthe Oscar-nominated documentary she produced with her husband Kerrin Sheldon.
âI was actually at the Oscars on the red carpet. I was in the fan stands. And I saw them and I started crying because it’s like, ‘Whoa, like, these people are from Huntington. Like, it’s possible. And, of course like, my husband and I started to cheer them on and people were like, “Who is this? And I was like, ‘These are West Virginia.’ And it’s like, ‘They’re famous to me.’ “
Shine On, WV, she said, âreally opens my eyes to what’s possible being here. “