Gratitude

Gratitude

Gratitude.  That is a difficult word to embrace this year, as we collectively battled a pandemic, a tumultuous election, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives – some of whom were friends, neighbors, and family.   However, I would like to take this moment to thank everyone who has been a part of New York Folklore this past year – in no particular order!

  • New York Folklore was fortunate to be able to draw upon the expertise of colleagues and artists to move programming online. Early in the pandemic, New York Folklore inaugurated a daily series – May 2020: 20 Folk Artists in 20 Days – in which we were able to present the diversity of folk culture found in New York State.  This series was partly educational for staff at New York Folklore, as we sought new ways of reaching people in the virtual space.  I am grateful for the many artists and fellow folk culture professionals who paired up to present folk arts from every end of our vast state.  If you missed the series, you can re-visit it on our vimeo channel:  https://vimeo.com/showcase/7104335
  • With help from Elinor Levy, Outreach Coordinator for Mentoring and Professional Development, the talented Karen Berelowitz helped us launch a virtual Business 101 series for folk and traditional artists that was so successful that we ran it again! Her down to earth presentations were augmented by the performing arts acumen of Dave Ruch, and arts education expertise of Lisa Rathje of Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts Education.  We are grateful for the “sold-out” nature of the workshops, and for the many artists who were introduced to New York Folklore through the series.  We received overwhelmingly positive reviews from participants who remarked upon the importance of interacting with fellow folk and traditional artists from throughout the state.
  • New York Folklore has joined forces, and resources, with Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts in Education, to create a shared half-time Folk Arts Education Network Coordinator position. Applications are being accepted now for a position that will begin in January.  The job description and information on how to apply can be found here:  https://www.locallearningnetwork.org/we-are-hiring/

We are excited that our organization is once-again in a growth mode and that we will be able to provide enhanced opportunities for artists and educators in New York State!

  • New York Folklore is governed by an increasingly diverse board of directors who are passionate and pro-actively pursuing the health and vitality of New York’s folk cultural landscape. Our annual meeting which will include an election of new board members and officers will take place on Saturday, January 16, 2021 at noon.  We hope you’ll plan to attend!  To register, please follow this link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_tMYErAGvSYipnzM6rcabwg

I want to thank outgoing board members Julie Tay (NYC) and board treasurer, John Braungard (Capital District) for their many years of service on behalf of New York Folklore.   I also want to express my appreciation for the six years of Presidential leadership by Tom van Buren who will remain on the board in the “past President” role.   On January 16th we will formally elect new officers and members, including Maria Kennedy as the incoming President and Jim Hall (Rochester) as our new NYF treasurer.  They will be joined by new board members Evelyn D’Agostino Sasso (Rochester); MacKenzie Kwok (NYC); William Walker (Cooperstown); Ed Millar (Niagara); and renewing board member, Wilfredo Morel (Peekskill).   Please join us for this joyous occasion!

  • New York Folklore staff, Ellen McHale and Laurie Longfield, are joined in their work by those who provide specific programmatic expertise, including Acquisitions Editor Todd DeGarmo and Editorial Assistant, Patti Mason; Elinor Levy, folklorist and outreach coordinator for our Mentoring and Professional Development Program; and this years Upstate Regional Fieldworkers – Khizra Awan, Ladan Alomar, and Anne Rappaport – who will be continuing to document Albany and Rensselaer Counties in 2021. These programs and partnerships will continue in 2021 with the addition of increased activities around advocacy for folklore and folk arts collections and archives, increased support for building support networks for artists around New York State, and a new e-commerce site to extend the reach of our gallery to a much wider public.  Look for these developments in the new year!

New York Folklore is dedicated to supporting the work of artists, community leaders, and folk arts professionals to better understand, to recognize, and to amplify the significant contributions that folk and traditional culture has for the state and the nation.  We are ALWAYS happy to welcome you to our ever-widening circles of activity.   If you haven’t joined us already, please consider it today!

https://nyfolklore.org/about-new-york-folklore/membership/

 

 

The headline photo is from July 2019, with a visit from Kyrgyz students pictured here (Aselia, Vera, and Nurbolot) and leaders (Anisa Mambetalieva and Nazgul Akylbek Kyzy of Youth of Osh of Kyrgyzstan, as part of an international exchange program betweenYouth of Osh and New York Folklore, with support form World Learning through a grant from the US State Department.  Pictured New York youth participants include Ula, Saoirse, Corey, and New York Folklore Staff Ellen McHale and Kira Born.  Photo by Nurbolot Esenbek.

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/

Learning DSLR Photography with Guha Shankar

Learning DSLR Photography with Guha Shankar

On Monday, May 13, eleven folklorists congregated at the New York Folklore offices in Schenectady to learn the ins and outs of DSLR photography. The two-day workshop was led by Guha Shankar of The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, who explained to us the interrelations of aperture, exposure, and ISO, as well as techniques for managing light and flash photography. We also explored the nuances of ethnographic photography, and strategies of photographing tradition bearers in natural settings in a non-intrusive yet engaging way.

The workshop had a healthy mix of instruction, hands-on fieldwork, and review and critique of our efforts with the unfamiliar DSLR cameras. After the initial overview of photography from Guha, we carpooled to Armando & Sons Ironworks, and were treated to a fascinating tour of the shop.

Folklorists photograph at Armando & Sons

A folklorist paparazzi! Workshop participants practice photography at Armando & Sons Ironworks

Our goal was to practice photography in a natural ethnographic setting, and develop our own photography skills rather than adjust the environment to pose less challenges for us. I found that the two most challenging aspects of photographing at Armando & Sons were the multitude of light sources (each requiring a separate white balance in order to appear true white) and the fast pace of a metalworker in action. Each photographer experimented with their camera settings in order to compensate for the environmental factors.

Later during the workshop we visited and photographed the Electric City Barn in Schenectady, an impressive space designed to enable a variety of artists (carpenters, studio photographers, theater actors, dancers, textile artists) to practice their craft. Next was Perreca’s, a 105 year old authentic Italian bakery, with its wooden work surfaces covered in flour and texture from decades of nonstop use. Each of these locations provided their own challenges of lighting, space, and motion, to be overcome by the photographers’ wits and camera settings. Each provided an intriguing look behind-the-scenes into the history of the businesses and the stories of the people who run them.

Guha Shankar assists Beth Bevars with her camera

Guha Shankar assists Beth Bevars with her camera at Armando & Sons Ironworks

After our photography sessions in the field, all returned to NYF for critique, review, and photograph analysis. We examined how different camera settings were successful or unsuccessful in specific situations, and considered how to improve in future ethnographic photography situations. By the time the workshop wrapped up, we had absorbed lots of information and had taken a great leap ahead in the ongoing process of learning DSLR photography and its application to ethnographic fieldwork.

This photography workshop was sponsored by NYSCA Folk Arts through its Mentoring and Professional Development Program. We are indebted to Guha Shankar and the Library of Congress, and Robert Baron of the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts.

My Mentorship with Eric Charry about Jola Bougarabou Drumming

My Mentorship with Eric Charry about Jola Bougarabou Drumming

Within five minutes of his arrival on April 6, 2018, my mentor, Professor Eric Charry of Wesleyan University, taught me something I did not know about interviewing musicians. Pulling up a photo of Nfamara Badjie playing bougarabou, Eric immediately notices that drum bodies are the traditional bougarabou shape, but the drum heads are not bougarabou. They are djembe, relating to the way in which the drums are tuned. Bougarabou drums are traditionally tuned by heating (putting the drums close to a fire), while the djembe is tuned with a hammer, a more viable system in the United States. I now know to ask how an instrument changes as it moves from one country to another and over time.

The difference in drums led to a discussion of the notion of ethnicity tied to a particular instrument. Is the essence of bougarabou and Jola the instrument or the rhythms and songs associated with it? Or a combination? At what point does the instrument change enough to not be bougarabou? Who gets to decide? Eric and Nfamara helped me to place the tradition of bougarabou within the Jola and within the various tribal cultures found in Gambia and Senegal. We also discussed the lineage of bougarabou musicians of which Nfamara is one of the last. Nfamara told us that some Jola believe that he is killing the culture because he is in the United States and not in the Gambia sharing and teaching the bougarabou.

Eric reminded me that I need to apply these same questions about changes in instrument or materials, across the genres and not just in music.

For information about applying for the Mentoring and Professional Development Program in Folk and Traditional Arts, please contact me at [email protected] to discuss an application.