The Royalty of Princeton, West Virginia

In Princeton, West Virginia, I was completely mesmerized by a woman. Her name was Lori McKinney-Blankenship, and she reigned over her hometown of Princeton with a colorful, inclusive heart.

Lori formed the RiffRaff Arts Collective, our West Virginian host extraordinaire, with her husband/bandmate/soulmate, Robert Blankenship. Together they make an incredible, inspiring, and empowering duo, thread by the same purpose to transform their community from depressed, former coal town to thriving arts center. Their efforts were impressive, and all they had set out to accomplish, was optimistically and confidently pursued.

The RiffRaff Arts Collective has been coloring Mercer Street in Princeton for 10 years. I was humbled by how many opportunities they provide to their community through multimedia approaches. They offer recording studio time, open stage nights, creative dance workshops, annual art parades and festivals, community gardens, alleyways of murals– just to name a few. Yet, everything they offer had all been conceived with the intention to foster artistic exploration and self-discovery, as well as urban redevelopment. This tiny street in a town with a population of less than 6,500 is developing into a mecca of the arts. Lori’s future goals include bridging the gap between artists of bigger cities and Princeton to grow networks and collaborations. I eagerly asked her when I could start to apply.

They inspired me and showed me how dreams to change the world have to start on a local level. The truth is, before you try to help others, you must help yourself.


A mural included in an alleyway full. This was painted by Lori’s niece, Kayla, in an effort to empower.


The team and I learned a great deal about Princeton from Lori. We sat at her favorite view of her town, which was at an oval perpendicular to Mercer Street.


Lori’s niece, Kayla, and her husband Robert performed 3 songs for us on their weekly open stage night at The Room Upstairs.


A poem I found in West Virginia that serves as the epilogue to a 2-day exploration of Mercer Street; to me it speaks volumes of change and transformation.

Ciertamente con amor y paz,