Folk Arts Education in K-12 Educational Settings

Folk Arts Education in K-12 Educational Settings

Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts in Education has been doing innovative work in New York State through its annual Culture, Community and the Classroom workshops.   The Culture, Community and the Classroom workshops take place over several days, during which artists and teachers explore curriculum connections with regional folklore and folk arts, guided by Local Learning Staff –  Dr. Lisa Rathje (Executive Director of Local Learning) and Paddy Bowman (founder of Local Learning).  Skills imparted in the workshops are then utilized by participating folk and traditional artists through presentations within k-12 school settings, with artists and teachers working directly with students to engage them with hands-on activities. Through these annual workshops, more than one hundred artists have received professional development to further their skills in presenting their traditional art and culture and more than twenty-five school districts have been impacted by and benefited from teacher/artist pairings.  Workshops have taken place in consecutive years in Buffalo (2018), LeRoy (2019), and Corning (2020), in conjunction with Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), regional folklorists, and educators.  In 2021, Culture, Community and the Classroom, will be presented in Broome County, in partnership with the Broome Tioga BOCES.

Because of this ground-breaking folklore in education work, New York Folklore Executive Director, Ellen McHale, and Local Learning Executive Director, Lisa Rathje, have identified a need to provide further professional development and technical assistance to artists and educators, and to help grow the capacity for folk arts education in New York State.  This professional development initiative will take place in addition to and as an extension of the annual Culture, Community and the Classroom workshops. Through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, Local Learning and New York Folklore are partnering to provide a shared and designated employee to further the work initiated by Local Learning.  To read about the job specifications and duties, or to APPLY, please follow this link:  https://www.locallearningnetwork.org/we-are-hiring/

New York Folklore has initiated as special membership level at New York Folklore that will directly support this arts education initiative.  We have named this after folklorist and educator, Edith Cutting.   Born in 1918, Edith Cutting grew up in Essex County, town of Lewis, on a small family farm. She attended the New York State College for Teachers, where in 1936 she enrolled in an elective course in American Folklore, taught by Dr. Harold W. Thompson, a founder of the New York Folklore Society.  As an educator, Edith Cutting made her career as a secondary school teacher, teaching in Ellenburg, DeRuyter, and Dryden, NY before taking a position at Johnson City High School, where she taught for the majority of her career from 1949-1975.  A High School English teacher, Edith Cutting instituted the Johnson City High School’s Folk Festival, engaging students in exploring their own folklore and cultural traditions.  She also wrote and published several works for young readers, drawing on folklore materials.  Notable for New York Folklore, Edith Cutting served as the Secretary of the Board of the New York Folklore Society at its inception during the presidency of Harold Thompson, and was instrumental in the Society’s founding in 1944.  It is appropriate, therefore, that New York Folklore recognizes Edith Cutting’s  interests in folklore and education through an Edith Cutting membership.  To directly support the Folklore in Education initiative, please visit our membership page at https://nyfolklore.org/about-new-york-folklore/membership/

Cultural Bridge: A Cultural Heritage Exchange between New York Folklore and Youth of Osh

Cultural Bridge: A Cultural Heritage Exchange between New York Folklore and Youth of Osh

From February through July, 2019, New York Folklore engaged in a unique partnership project through the United States Department of State and the non-profit organization, World Learning. Involving both a virtual exchange and an in-person exchange, New York Folklore partnered with Youth of Osh of Kyrgyzstan and the US-based Schoharie River Center, as well as Utica College and Duanesburg High School, to involve almost thirty youth and young adults in an exploration of cultural heritage from the vantage points of New York’s Mohawk Valley and the Alay Valley of the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

The project came to fruition with two back-to-back visits by a small delegation from each country. The first visit took place in June 2019, as three Kyrgyz students and two adult leaders were hosted by New York Folklore. After a whirlwind afternoon in New York City, the group was transported to the rural Mohawk Valley to experience the region’s traditional art activities involving textiles, stone, and wood. They attended and participated in the Cooperstown Community Dance, explored the Schoharie Creek watershed by canoe and on foot, and examined the region’s vernacular architecture. As one of the goals of the project was to participate in a service project, the Krygyz and American students worked together to create a timber-framed sign kiosk that they were able to donate and erect for a youth program in Middleburgh, New York. Toward the end of their visit the project presented a mini folklife festival with crafts demonstrations, and music and dance performance that took place at the Duanesburg High School in rural Schenectady County.

Kyrgyz and US exchange participants after hiking Vroman's Nose trail

Kyrgyz and US exchange participants in high spirits after hiking Vroman’s Nose Trail in Middleburgh, NY

As a counterpart of the June visit by Youth of Osh and their students, New York Folklore Executive Director Ellen McHale, Schoharie River Center Director John McKeeby, and three students traveled to southern Krygyzstan in mid-July for a ten day visit. In keeping with the shared themes of cultural heritage and tourism, we were treated to hands-on workshops with folk artists and fine craftspersons; explored the building technology of the yurt (and got to both build one and sleep in one); and explored the Alay Valley through hiking and exploring its high pastures. A service project took the form of erecting a series of three signs that provided tourism information to those hiking the base of Lenin Peak. At the trip’s conclusion, Youth of Osh staged a community folk arts festival that included traditional music and dance performances, folk arts demonstrations, and children’s games and other activities.

People play a Kyrgyz children's game outside yurts

Learning (and playing) a Kyrgyz children’s game with US and Kyrgyz participants. Conor Landrigan of Utica College is performing.
Feature image: Foodways Dinner in a yurt with Kyrgyz and American participants, June 2019

Lessons learned are too numerous for enumerating in this forum. For my part, and for New York Folklore, our circle has widened and there are possibilities for future shared projects and initiatives. We have also made dear friends with Youth of Osh, an important organization that works to ensure a brighter future for Kyrgyzstan and its youth. For the participating young people, they were able to experience another culture – either directly or indirectly. What was perhaps most energizing for the participants, however, was that through the vehicle of cultural exchange they were able to learn about their own culture and to gain a greater appreciation for the dynamics of folk arts and folklife in their home countries.