Felix Nelson, conducting a dance lesson as part of a Ghanaian drumming and dance residency
as part of the Schoharie River Center’s Middleburgh, NY Advantage Afterschool Program in 2021. Photo by Ellen McHale
Local Learning and New York Folklore are pleased to welcome Mira Johnson to the role of New York State Folklore in Education Network Coordinator. With a doctorate in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning from Penn State University and an M.A. in folklore from the University of Oregon, Mira is excited to bring her expertise from both the fields to the New York Folklore in Education Network.
Due to the growing interest and need to support authentic pathways between diverse tradition bearers and both formal and informal learning spaces, in 2021 Local Learning and New York Folklore partnered to hire a shared staff position at .5 fte who could engage and coordinate our growing folklore education network. We continue to invest in this position to connect and coordinate between sites where Culture, Community, and the Classroom programs have happened, as well as other arts, humanities, and culture activities of New York Folklore. In a recent survey of program participants in Local Learning and educational folklore programs, 84% of the respondents ranked their interest in participating in the New York Folklore in Education Network at the highest level, including participating in hybrid, face to face, and zoom gatherings. Mira will help conceptualize network activities to engage artists and educators from across the state.
As a regional culture specialist for Pennsylvania’s state folklife program, Mira conducted fieldwork with rural and urban folk artists and tradition bearers, and served as the program coordinator at FolkArtPA, Pennsylvania’s statewide folklife program. She later served as the Folk Arts and Education Coordinator at the Pelham Arts Center in Pelham, New York, where she oversaw the folk art performance and workshop series and worked to integrate folk art education into the center’s studio art curriculum.
Mira is also an adjunct assistant professor at Bronx Community College in the English Department and the First Year Seminar Program. She is currently board member and board secretary for New York Folklore. Her research addresses the role of traditional knowledge and ecological relationships in community-based education, as well as regional belief practices.
Mira started in this role September 1, 2021. She will be available at [email protected]
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!
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.
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/
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 https://www.goart.org/glow-traditions/
- 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 https://poklib.org/day-of-the-dead-celebration-celebracion-del-dia-de-los-muertos/
- 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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUvO9A8uH-c&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2vjlvfGiqWUmINMLzIHYDvnNWrxYrkMfyHTTeD0jeCoc6pkdZZxgxe20A
- 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
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.
Perhaps more than any other single aspect of the discipline of folklore, the collection, study, and analysis of narrative arts, storytelling, and storytellers has been a central part of folklore scholarship since the field was founded in the mid-Nineteenth Century. European collectors such as Perreault (France – seventeenth century) and the Brothers Grimm (Germany- eighteenth century) collected and published many of the well-loved “fairy tales” known today, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. In the twentieth century, American collectors Zora Neale Hurston, Roger Abrahams, Alan Lomax, and others expanded the storytelling canon to include tales with Afro-centric origins. Stories with characters such as Anansi the Spider, Papa Bwa, and the Soucouya, were introduced to a wider audience beyond solely Caribbean and African American communities.Today’s fascination with storytelling is encouraged by the “me” story, fueled by Story Corps, reality TV, Facebook, Snapchat, and a host of other social media that encourages one to tell one’s “story.” This current focus on the individual marks a significant cultural shift away from the historic role of traditional story and storytelling as shared collective expressions intended to stimulate and encourage ideas about family, community, political, secular, and religious values.
If you would like to experience the performative nature of stories, two events are taking place in the Capital District that will provide opportunities. On February 29 (Schenectady) and March 1 (Troy), Nazmo Dance Company will join with folklorists Kay Turner and Rose October-Edun to explore European and Caribbean tales as interpreted through modern dance. Performances will take place at the Schenectady Light Opera and at the Arts Center for the Capital Region in Troy. Tickets can be obtained here: www.nyfolklore.org/grimm.
A second opportunity to hear live storytelling will be the annual conference of Northeast Storytelling. “Sharing the Fire 2020” will offer three days of performances and workshops at the Gideon Putnam Spa and Resort in Saratoga Springs. More information can be found at www.NEstorytelling.org.