Showcasing the Arts

Media Award

Morgan Cook Atkinson

Jefferson County

Morgan Cook Atkinson is a Louisville-based writer and producer of documentaries, which he has been doing since the early 1980s. His documentaries have been broadcast on PBS stations statewide, regionally and nationally. Of more than 20 programs that have been broadcast, most have focused on subjects related to Kentucky or Kentuckians. The work has included telling the story of the artful lives of Anna and Harlan Hubbard, illustrating the spiritual journey of Thomas Merton and documenting Kentucky’s enduring passion for high school basketball.

Other topics have included the hard life and good times of musician Tim Krekel; use and abuse of Beargrass Creek, an essential body of water; and the role of public art and what it can say about a community, like the Louisville Falls Fountain, the Derby Clock and the General Castleman statue. Recurring themes in Atkinson’s work are the importance of community, the enduring need for human connection and the power of the human spirit.

Atkinson is the son of Ann Cook Nelson and B. M. “Buddy” Atkinson, a former columnist for the Louisville Times and later a writer for such shows as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction,” “The Tim Conway Comedy Hour” and “The Love Boat.” Morgan Atkinson is married to Barbara Sievert Atkinson, with two step-daughters and four grandsons.

The 1974 University of Kentucky graduate is currently working on a documentary about the Ohio River. He has been a volunteer with Hosparus Health of Louisville, the Hildegard House, Dare to Care, the Schumann Center, Bringing Home Justice and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Reflecting on his work, Atkinson quotes renowned cellist Pablo Casals “The only credit we can claim is for the use we make of the talent we are given. One’s work should be a salute to life.”

“Each day I pray, may it be so,” Atkinson added.

What does this distinction mean to you?

I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say there is great satisfaction and gratitude for an award of this sort. It indicates that the subject matter I have found important has had relevance and some interest to my community, both locally and statewide. Looking at previous honorees I am very honored and humbled to be in their company.

How does your work help elevate and promote the arts in Kentucky?

My work has focused on significant Kentuckians such as Thomas Merton, Anna and Harlan Hubbard and Tim Krekel among others. With acknowledged bias I can say that Kentuckians can be enriched by learning more about such gifted people. Their stories can inspire and motivate any of us to look deeper, dream bigger. Profiling these great artists also embraces issues or attributes for which they are known including creativity, care for the environment, social justice, independent thinking, perseverance and spiritual growth. All Kentuckians can be elevated by embracing some or all of these attributes.

What interests you about visual storytelling?

Is a picture worth a thousand words? As one who sees writing as part of his vocation that is difficult to buy without some qualifications. I do believe that compelling visual storytelling often reaches a broader audience. It has great power. I hope my work has possessed some of that power. But I am also very aware that because of the “iPhone-ification” of our times it seems everyone is taking pictures, often very good ones, that tell stories. That increases the challenge of presenting the right images in a unique way to touch audiences.