America’s beloved neighborhood friend, Mr. Rogers, was once quoted saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
And when the Netflix original Hillbilly Elegy was released last year, it was easy for Appalachians to grow discouraged of their representation on the big screen—like in the broad characterization of poverty for the region, and the idea that to succeed if you’re from Appalachia, you have to ‘escape.’
Enter Jillian Carney Howell—a Marshall and University of North Carolina Wilmington alumna who is using filmmaking to turn around and invest in the lives of those in Appalachia, the same way others invested in her.
Carney Howell said her love of filmmaking began at age seven, when Santa brought her a Barbie video camera for Christmas.
That love for filmmaking inspired her to follow her dreams, so the Scott Depot native started her college career at Marshall University to take advantage of in-state tuition and scholarships for general education classes. She went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Film Studies program in 2017.
Upon graduation, Carney Howell served as a Content and Production intern at Yellow Shoes Creative Group at The Walt Disney Company, one of their internal advertising agencies.
Carney Howell’s Disney journey continued with a gig assisting production crews filming on the Disneyland resort properties.
In January 2019, Carney Howell began work as a production assistant on Frozen 2—yes, that Frozen 2.
Carney Howell’s recent work venture is finishing up work as production assistant on Disney’s newest animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon, which is scheduled to release in March 2021.
She was recently promoted to Production Coordinator for the Disney Animation’s Creative Legacy department, working on theme park attractions featuring custom animation including the rethemed Splash Mountain and Shanghai Disney Resort’s Zootopialand.
When she’s not working for Disney, Carney Howell gives back. Her passion for giving back started in high school, creating an organization focused on promoting anti-bullying and working with West Virginia Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership.
Carney Howell’s most recent passion project is creating the nonprofit Shine On, WV.
The mission statement of Shine On, WV is to, “give West Virginians’ stories and creative work a platform, create an arts network for richer creativity, debunk the myth that Appalachians can only be in certain fields, and help de-mystify arts’ industries.”
“I want people to have the same enthusiasm for sharing these stories and videos as they do when they share pepperoni roll memes,” Carney Howell said.
Shine On, WV, started sharing in January 2020 and has already featured several West Virginia natives working in fashion design, music, the performing arts and film industries including Justin McElroy, Zavier Sinnett, Lexi Lewis and Daniel Dudley.
Their approach to finding Appalachian artists working in the industry thus far has been organic—relying on suggestions from people who follow their social media accounts or a suggestion from one of the subjects.
Carney Howell started a Seek and Spark campaign and has secured enough fundraising to film 10 additional videos to be filmed and produced. She started filming and producing the videos herself pro bono, but said she found it important to pay West Virginia artists to do the work and empower others.
“Our goal is to fill the gap and create a directory for all artists in the state and appeal to all West Virginians.” Carney Howell said.
Shine On, WV is a registered 501(c)(3) under the Appalachian Arts Academy in West Virginia.
If you are an artist who would like to be featured or know someone who is, reach out to Carney Howell at email@example.com. To see what Shine On, WV is sharing, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ShineOnWestVirginia.
Carney Howell is succeeding in her dream career and looking back to Appalachia to help others do the same. We think Mr. Rogers would be proud of this helper.