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.
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 (www.nyfolklore.org), the American Folklore Society (www.afsnet.org); and the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, (www.loc.gov/folklife). 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.
On May 1, 2020, New York Folklore and folklore programs across New York State will launch a collaboration to present traditional arts and culture from throughout New York State. Each weekday in May, from 4:00 -4:30 p.m., traditional arts activities will be presented through a livestream from New York Folklore’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/New-York-Folklore-76410462500/
“May 2020: 20 Folk Artists/20 Days” amplifies the artistic excellence found within New York’s communities. To view this daily initiative, simply tune in to New York Folklore’s Facebook page each weekday in May from 4:00 – 4:30 p.m. to experience a free, live-streamed event by one of New York State’s folk artists or tradition bearers.
The initiative showcases the artistic excellence and diversity of traditional arts and culture in New York State. Folk arts and cultural expressions are nurtured and perpetuated within communities. They are shared by those who have common regional affiliations, ethnic heritage, occupations, avocational interests, gender, and many other identifiers of interconnection. Artistic excellence is determined by a shared community aesthetic with innovation occurring within the bounds of the interests and concerns of the shared community.
Partners: Coordinating and partnering organizations from throughout New York State include the following: New York State Fiddlers Hall of Fame, Glow Traditions, Long Island Traditions, Los Pleneros de la 21, Arts Mid-Hudson, Brooklyn Arts Council, Arts Westchester, Center for Traditional Music and Dance, Rochester Institute of Technology, and The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE). Presenting folklorists and cultural scholars include Karen Canning, Andrew Cowell, Hannah Davis, Julia Gutíerrez-Rivera, Elinor Levy, Jorge Arévalo Mateus, Ellen McHale, Chris Mulé, Aaron Paige, Naomi Sturm-Wijesinghe, Emily Socolov, Valerie Walawender, and Christine Zinni.
Image: Louis C. Jones, 1950
New York Folklore celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding in 1944. The New York Folklore Society was formed as an offshoot of the New York State Historical Association and had the blessing of then-NYSHA President, Ryan Dixon Fox, an educator and President of Union College. Jones writes in Upstate Literature: Essays in Memory of Thomas F. O’Donnell (1985):
“Thompson and I had begun to talk of a New York Folklore Society as early as 1938 when I was finishing my graduate work at Columbia… By the summer of 1944, I had, at Thompson’s suggestion, approached Dixon Ryan Fox, President of the New York Historical Society (as well as of Union College) and found him most receptive to the idea that the new society should be born at a meeting of the Association. It took place at the luncheon meeting held at the Trinity Methodist Church in Albany on October 6, 1944; a few hours later Thompson presided at a session devoted entirely to papers on New York Folklore.”
Jones’s glee of their success is apparent in the correspondence between Louis C Jones and Harold Thompson. Jones related to Thompson in a private correspondence:
I think everything is now set for the meeting next week. By this time you have the program from the Historical Association, which carried everything except the fact that we are going to have a cracker-barrel bull session Saturday morning at 10…… Besides these formal functions, the Jones’s are going to have Open House on Friday afternoon at which we are going to gather in the brighter spirits……..
Jones goes on to describe the party that he is planning, its food and drink, and his and his wife’s attire. We hope that you’ll join us in Ossining on November 16th to create a memory for the next 75 years!
Jones, Louis C. “Early Days of the Folklore Renaissance,” in Frank Bergman. Upstate Literature: Essays in Memory of Thomas F. O’Donnell. Syracuse University Press, 1985.
Louis C. Jones Papers, Collection 410. Courtesy of the Fenimore Art Museum Library.
This year’s NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable took place in Utica from April 3-5. The NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable is a professional development meeting and convening that draws the state’s folklorists and traditional arts professionals for three days of issue-focused meetings and professional development presentations in a Roundtable format. Each attendee is an active participant, sharing their own experiences and expertise in thematic sessions. In 2019, Roundtable themes included foodways and arts in education, including both k-12 education as well as strategies for engaging a diverse adult audience with arts learning. The NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable is a program of the Folk Arts Program of NYSCA, planned each year in collaboration with New York Folklore.
Since 2012, the Roundtable has been located each year in different communities around New York State, taking advantage of the opportunities accorded by different regions and urban areas in New York State to delve into traditional arts and cultural expressions. In each location, participants of the Roundtable are presented with best practices for folk arts engagement. In Utica, participants of the Roundtable visited the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees to learn about Utica’s unique experience with refugee resettlement. They explored the city’s diverse foodways offerings, and discussed arts in education with Lisa Rathje of Local Learning : the National Network for Folk Arts in Education.
Roundtablers enjoy a meal at Karam’s Middle East Bakery
This year’s 36 attendees came from throughout New York State, with special invited guests being Millie Rahn of the Lowell National Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, and Lisa Rathje of Local Learning. Participants of the NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable are folklorists and cultural arts professionals who work within folk arts contexts in arts agencies, museums, libraries, and university settings. They form a vibrant folk arts network that helps to elevate folk cultural expressions throughout New York.