North Country Folklorist, Varick Chittenden Receives the Prestigious Benjamin A Botkin Award from the American Folklore Society

North Country Folklorist, Varick Chittenden Receives the Prestigious Benjamin A Botkin Award from the American Folklore Society

Each year, the Public Programs Section of the American Folklore Society joins with the AFS Executive Board to award the Benjamin A. Botkin Prize.  This annual award honors an individual for significant lifetime achievement in public folklore.  New York Folklore joins with the folklore community in congratulating North Country folklorist, Varick Chittenden, for receiving this highest honor at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society, held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

This prize is given in recognition of the work of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975). An eminent New Deal-era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938-1939, advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists, author and compiler of many publications on American folklore for general audiences, and head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress from 1942 to 1945, Botkin had a major impact on the field of public folklore and on the public understanding of folklore.

Prize recipients are nominated by their peers with the following criteria:

  • Engagement of a broad public audience in the materials of folklore
  • Impact on the field of public folklore: development of models, methodology, visibility, advocacy
  •  Impact on communities/constituents and their traditional culture
  • Contributions to the body of materials of folklore/public folklore
  • Quality of their scholarship
  • Quality of their public programming and presentations
  • Their impact on the discipline of folklore

Varick Chittenden aptly deserves this honor.  Here is some of the nomination that was submitted to the American Folklore Society for consideration:

“Varick was born and raised in Northern New York.  As a native New Yorker, he has devoted his life’s work to raising the value and understanding of the traditional culture of New York’s North Country.  He made his first career as a professor of American Studies and Folklore at the State University of New York at Canton, a school that attracts rural students, those who are first generation college students, and students that are largely from the Adirondack or North Country region.  As a professor, he encouraged folklore collecting by his students and focused the lens of folklore and folklore scholarship on his own community.  After obtaining a degree from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Folk Culture (1976), Varick created the Center for North Country Folklife, and the following year he organized the first Festival of North Country Folklife.

Expanding his vision ever wider, Varick founded the non-profit Traditional Arts of Upstate New York (TAUNY) in 1986, as a collecting and presenting organization that now serves as an important cultural organization for the region and for the state.  There is no other folklore or folk arts organization that so completely serves the North Country of New York.  Today, through his vision, TAUNY is a vibrant arts center that offers folklore and folklife research, exhibitions, ongoing programming, and collections preservation and maintenance.  Housed in a former Woolworth’s Five and Dime, the TAUNY Center serves as an important economic driver for the small city of Canton. To read more about their work, visit their website https://tauny.org/

From 2000 until 2020, Varick served as a columnist for the New York Folklore Society’s publication, Voices: the Journal of New York Folklore.  In keeping with the original format of the journal and its original column of Upstate/Downstate (for which Benjamin Botkin was the “Downstate” writer), I asked Varick in 1999 to be our “Upstate” columnist (opposite Steve Zeitlin’s “Downstate).  For twenty years, Varick graced our journal with his illuminating writing about the North Country, its communities, and its folklore and folk arts.

Varick is an innovator who is a leader for the field of folklore.  He has worked to create curriculum connections for North Country folklore with k-12 educators; he has trained folk artists to be better entrepreneurs in a partnership with then- NY Senator Hilary Clinton; and he has created two programs for public recognition of North Country people and landmarks: The North Country Heritage Award and The Register of Very Special Places (RSVP).  RSVP has been an influencer for the current Legends and Lore Program of the Pomeroy Foundation, a program that began in New York State but went national in 2019.  From its beginning, Varick served as an advisor to this program that provides cast iron “markers” for locations that are connected to local historical and contemporary legend.”

Varick was one of the nation’s pioneers in the movement of focusing on the folklore of one’s own area. In 1979 he wrote that one of the goals of the Center for North Country Folklife was to foster this new movement – “to collect and record the experiences and folk traditions of the North Country; not just for future generations, but for the enjoyment and enrichment of those living here now.”  New York State and its North Country have benefited from the visionary leadership of Varick Chittenden.  The next time you see him on the streets of St. Lawrence County, give him your congratulations.

 

 

Welcome to Mira Johnson as the New York Folklore in Education Network Coordinator

Welcome to Mira Johnson as the New York Folklore in Education Network Coordinator

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]

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.