New Yorkers Honor the Dead through Día de los Muertos

New Yorkers Honor the Dead through Día de los Muertos

The Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration that spans centuries.  In its trajectory through the ages, the celebration has received influences from indigenous peoples, Catholicism, regional differences, and the creativity of those who construct the ofrenda, or altar.

Several elements are typically included on an ofrenda.  Photographs of the departed are the centerpiece, as the ofrenda is built to honor and to invite those who have passed to the other world.  These photos of the deceased are displayed alongside candles, saints’ pictures,  skulls, offerings of food and drink, marigolds, incense, paper cut-outs or papel picado, salt, personal items, crosses, nuts and seeds, and water.

A special bread, pan de muertos, is provided to the deceased and to the living who visit an ofrenda.  Pan de muertos is an essential element that has been recorded as originating in the 16th century contact between Spanish and Aztec civilizations.   José Luis Curiel Monteagudo, in his book Azucarados Afanes, Dulces y Panes, says, “To eat pan de muertos is for the Mexican a true pleasure, considering the cannibalism of bread and sugar. The phenomena is treated with respect and irony. Defying death, they make fun of her by eating it.”    As with the pan de Muertos, each of the items on the ofrenda have their own symbolism that relate to the deceased and their journey back to the living realm.

The three-day celebration of Día de los Muertos takes place on October 31, November 1, and November 2. In New York State, several celebrations are planned in many different locations.  A few locations are the following:

  • New York Folklore, 129 Jay Street, Schenectady presents an ofrenda, designed by community advocate Ana Lorena Diana, with support from the Schenectady Initiative Program and the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game. New York Folklore’s ofrenda will be available for viewing from October 31 through November 7, 2020.
  • Glow Traditions, in Western New York, invites the public to their ofrenda which will be on view from October 27th through November 1 at the Mariachi de Oro Mexican Grill in Medina, NY, in collaboration with Leonel Rosario. In addition, visitors are invited to the virtual celebration and resource page at
  • Arts Mid-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, is partnering with the Poughkeepsie Public Library and the City of Poughkeepsie for Día de los Muertos programming. Information and a calendar of events can be found at the Poughkeepsie Public Library
  • ArtsWestchester, in collaboration with with Edgar and Juana E. Pinyol and the White Plains Public Library, presented Dia De Los Muertos, a program featuring artists from the Mexican, Paraguayan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, and Peruvian communities of Peekskill and White Plains.
  • Bronx Documentary Center and Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, 614 Cortland Avenue Bronx, NY have created a special “COVID-19” ofrenda, dedicated to those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

Finally, visit the web-pages of NYSCA Living Traditions to view videos and other programmatic materials related to Día de los Muertos in New York, including building an ofrenda and making a traditional Oaxacan sand painting.

For more information or to view images and/or videos relating to Día de los Muertos, visit this beautiful visual documentary site of Dane Strom:

Image courtesy of Aurelia Fernandez

New York Folklore Distributes Relief Funds for Artists Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

New York Folklore Distributes Relief Funds for Artists Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

New York Folklore is pleased to announce the disbursement of funds totaling $11,000.00 to benefit folk and traditional artists in New York State. These funds are made possible through  the generosity of donors from throughout the United States, including support from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation as well as many private donors.  Private donations were received  through a Go Fund Me Campaign for COVID-19 Relief for Folk and Traditional Artists in New York State.

Thanks to a successful campaign, grant funds of $500.00 or $250.00 will be distributed to twenty-five folk and traditional artists across the state, with each  of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Economic Development Regions of the State being represented by a grant to at least one artist.  The artists chosen represent diverse cultural groups.  They are practicing traditional art that reflects one’s location or one’s membership in a specific population group of New Yorkers.  Haudenosaunee artists were awarded funds, with support going to those who are known for their beadwork, bone and antler carving, traditional music and dance, and splint ash basketmaking from Seneca, Tuscarora, Oneida, Onondaga, and Mohawk nations.   Artists continuing cultural traditions from Puerto Rico, Peru, Mexico, Ireland, Guinea, Ghana, Turkey, Argentina, China, The Republic of Georgia, Algeria, and Tibet received support, as did artists who make art stemming from the African American experience (hair design, gourd instruments, quilting), Adirondack rustic furniture making, and the LGBTQ tradition of ballroom/runway.

Located in Schenectady, New York Folklore works to nurture traditional arts and culture in New York State through education, support, and outreach. New York Folklore envisions a world where the diverse traditions of New York State are fully recognized, appreciated, and supported.  This COVID-19 initiative by New York Folklore recognizes that folk artists who rely on work in the gig economy are suffering greatly during the pandemic. The loss of income is especially prevalent during the summer months, as during this time New York’s communities stage outdoor events focused upon their own community cultural expressions, providing one-time fees for artists’ participation.  The widespread cancellation of performances, festivals, exhibitions, and teaching opportunities has directly impacted New York’s folk and traditional artists.

Taylor Swift Asks us to Reflect on the meaning of “folklore”

Taylor Swift Asks us to Reflect on the meaning of “folklore”

The July 23, 2020 release of Taylor Swift’s new album, Folklore, begs the question, “What is folklore?”.  Refinery 29, the media and entertainment company dedicated to women’s perspectives, asks, “what does folklore mean anyway?”  Natalie Morin, writing for Refinery 29, explains that “folklore is the traditional customs preserved among a community, like stories, legends, songs, sayings, dances and popular beliefs,” and also “folklore is a belief that’s been widely circulated and well-known without any supporting evidence.”  (Morin, Refinery 29, July 23, 2020).

As the Executive Director of New York Folklore – New York’s statewide organization for the field of folklore– I am writing to suggest a more accurate portrayal of folklore and its role in human life.  While often portrayed as “inaccuracies,” or “quaint and old-fashioned,” folklore is much more than that misunderstood characterization.  Although folklore does connect people to their past, the expression of folklore is an integral part of life in the present.  Its manifestation is at the center of the idea of culture.  While folklore may include, as Morin states, “traditional customs,” as well as ideas that are not backed up by “evidence” (the multiple reports of Bigfoot occurrences nationwide, for example), folklore is, more accurately, the human, creative responses to very real, lived experiences.  Perhaps Laura Snapes’ review in The Guardian, (July 24, 2020) gives us the best rationale for the album’s title when she says that Folklore shows an “authentic” side to Swift.

“Authenticity” is an important concept to folklorists and those who follow and study folklore.  Every group of people that shares a sense of identity shares folklore as part of their identity.   Folklore is the “authentic” way that people comment upon their shared experiences.  Folklore during the current COVID-19 pandemic is all around us and it is easily apparent in the ways that people are responding creatively to their experiences.  Folklore is visible through the creative fabrications of the home-made facemasks.  Folklore is expressed through the changing ways that teens and schools are marking an important rite of passage by creatively re-working high school graduation ceremonies.  Folklore is visible in the Black Lives Movement through the memorials and street art created by communities expressing their grief over the murder of George Floyd, and through the ways that the shared experience of being Black in America is commented upon and creatively expressed through folk narrative, folk art, folk music, and practice throughout the Black community – no matter the geography, social class, educational attainment or age of the individual.

I ask those who are intrigued with Taylor Swift’s new album, Folklore, to use this moment as a stepping-off place to find out about folklore in your own communities.  Folklorists are working throughout New York State – in arts organization, museums, universities, and libraries – to draw attention to the diverse ways that folklore is apparent in our communities and to support folklore and folk arts at the grassroots.  One doesn’t have to look far, as there are vast resources at your fingertips – including New York’s statewide organization, New York Folklore (, the American Folklore Society (; and the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, (   Like Swift’s song titled “Cardigan,” you may find that folklore is that part of yourself that is familiar and well-worn, yet evocative and deeply meaningful.  Folklore is complicated.

Business 101 Training for Folk and Traditional Artists

Business 101 Training for Folk and Traditional Artists

New York Folklore is offering a series of workshops related to teaching business and marketing skills to folk artists.

This virtual series is open to twelve individuals/traditional artists and will involve online webinars conducted through Zoom. Each webinar will take place over a 2-hour time slot for a total of 8 hours of “classroom” instruction with Karen Berelowitz, of Karmabee.  This introductory webinar will be held on four Tuesdays in July 2020: July 7, 14, 21, 28, from 4 – 6 p.m.

The series will be offered free of charge. Entry is by application. Artists must commit to the totality of the series, with those completing the entire series to be guaranteed an honorarium of $250.00  plus an opportunity to showcase your work– either online or at the New York Folklore Gallery in Schenectady.

About The Instructor:

Karen Berelowitz of Karmabee has taught this series in the Hudson Valley, including twice at Arts Mid-Hudson. A native of South Africa, Karen developed her small art business over the past decade, selling at crafts fairs, on, and at local stores. In 2011, she opened my own studio and store in the historic waterfront Rondout district of Kingston, NY, where she also sold handmade items by local artists and craftspersons. In 2016 she closed the store but continues to operate Karmabee from her home studio.

The instructional schedule is as follows:

  1. July 7, 2020        Developing Your Brand
  2. July 14, 2020      Marketing and Social Media, Part I
  3. July 21, 2020      Marketing and Social Media, Part II and Valuing Your Expertise
  4. July 28, 2020      Business Requirements, Taxes, and Record-Keeping

After the initial series of general business and marketing practices, participants can choose to continue, selecting specialized training in three specific tracks. Artists can choose to take any combination of two sessions for a total of three hours, as each additional session is offered in 1.5-hour segments. Attendance for the topic areas will be capped at 6 per session. If there is overwhelming interest, an additional session will be added.

Specialized Training:

  • A. Resources for material culture or culinary/foodways artists.  How to use online platforms such as Etsy,  working with crafts fairs, selling to stores, pricing your goods, sourcing materials, showing your work. Instructor: Karen Berelowitz.

Section A will be held for two additional Tuesdays: August 4 and 11: 4:30 – 6 p.m.

  • B. Resources for performing artists.  Assessing virtual and live platforms for performing, generating income opportunities through ticket sales vs. asking a set fee vs. a virtual tip jar, effective marketing for bookings, how to manage merchandise sales during and after performances, working in “non-traditional” venues (libraries, museums, schools, historical societies), how to plan a concert (house concerts vs coffee house vs concert hall), and more. Instructor: Dave Ruch

Section B will be held for two Wednesdays: August 5 and 12: 3 – 5 p.m.

  • C. Resources for teaching artists.  Working within classroom settings (virtual or in-person), strategies for self-presentation, making curriculum connections. Instructor: Lisa Rathje of Local Learning: the National Network for Folk Arts in Education

Section 3 will be held for two days the first week in August:  Monday, August 3 and Thursday, August 6.  3:00 – 4:30 p.m.

The Opportunity Stipend:

At the end of the 6 week series, the participants will request support for an opportunity, for which they will receive a $250.00 honorarium.  Examples of the final funded opportunity could be a gallery showing (virtual or live), a presentation of some aspect of your work, a concert (virtual or live), or support towards placing work on a platform such as Etsy.

For further information, please contact Elinor Levy at [email protected] or call New York Folklore at 518-346-7008 and speak to Ellen McHale, Executive Director.

To register for the series, click here:  Register

This professional development opportunity is supported through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, with support from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New York Folklore, Equity, and the Black Lives Matter Movement

New York Folklore, Equity, and the Black Lives Matter Movement

New York Folklore was founded in 1944 with the strong belief in cultural equity and the importance of the participation and involvement of diverse individuals to make an inclusive society in America. The recognition and appreciation of folklore and folklife draws attention to the grassroots artistic expressions of all people, particularly those who have been “othered,” marginalized, and exiled. As an organization, we recognize that systemic racism and long-standing histories of inequality and violence towards persons of color continues to shape the life experiences of all New York’s residents. All, not some, or a few, or them. Us. All of us.

In the past months and years, we have witnessed horrific injustices in this country and state, including the New York-based murders of Amadou Diallo and Eric Garner, and the most recent killing of Minnesota resident, George Floyd, at the hands of the police.  These are not isolated instances, but are part of a long history of systematic, structurally emboldened violence against people of color in the United States that both pre-dates and includes the enslavement of Africans and African-Americans and continues today in the expression of economic inequalities, institutionalized white privilege,  white supremacy, and rampant violence.  It is apparent in the disproportionate numbers of persons of color dying from COVID-19, a criminal justice system that incarcerates Black men at an alarming rate, and ongoing racial quotas and discrimination within our immigration system.

At this moment in New York Folklore’s 75 year history, we re-affirm our founding principles espousing the worth of a diverse state and nation and confirm that we will continue to work to be an integral part of the societal change that will alleviate institutionalized racism and promote equal rights and equal access to cultural and economic prosperity.  This will be accomplished in the following ways:

  1. Continue to work towards diverse leadership (board and staff) that represents the geography, population demographics, and cultural groups of New York State.
  2. Continue to provide professional development and technical assistance to all persons in New York State and to assist with the acquisition of skills to help move people into leadership positions.
  3. Acknowledge the importance of cultural knowledge and expertise held by community scholars, and recognize the importance of lived community experience to be equal in value to university training.
  4. As much as possible, partner and share leadership with community organizations.

Signed, the board and staff of New York Folklore:

Thomas van Buren, President

Kay Turner, Vice-President

Mira C Johnson, Secretary

John Braungard, Treasurer

James Hall, member

Gamileh Jamil, member

Maria Kennedy, member

Wilfredo Morel, member

Naomi Sturm-Wijesinghe, member

Julie Tay, member

Staff:  Ellen McHale, Executive Director

Laurie Longfield, Gallery Manager

Elinor Levy, Mentoring and Professional Development