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NEA grant restarts folk arts program

by Jaime Adame | May 23, 2018 at 3:27 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A $30,000 federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will help the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville restart a statewide Folk and Traditional Arts program.

The university will hire a folk arts coordinator expected to begin work this fall, said Kelsey Lovewell Lippard, public relations coordinator for UA libraries.

"The exact salary for the position has not yet been determined, but it will be paid by the Libraries," she said in an email, adding that no decisions have been made about what additional financial support will be provided by the university.

Drew Beisswenger, an associate professor and performing arts librarian, wrote the request for federal funding and said the new hire will "go out with a camera or a video camera and work to document traditions in the state."

Beisswenger said folk arts can be defined very broadly. They include not only fiddle playing or quilting, for example, but can also be related to religious practices or food traditions.

The focus of the new program at UA will be on "community arts," Beisswenger said, which can be thought of as "arts that have some connection to a group in Arkansas [and] that have been passed down, let's say, through the decades."

Sometimes the groups "have been here for many generations," Beisswenger said. The program, however, will also support the folk-art traditions of relatively recent arrivals to Arkansas, such as people who have moved here from the Marshall Islands, Latin American countries or elsewhere.

"One of the real amazing things about Arkansas is the diversity of cultures," Beisswenger said.

The new program will work closely with existing arts organizations in the state, including the Arkansas Arts Council, Beisswenger said.

"They were very instrumental in us getting this grant," Beisswenger said. The council, a state agency, wrote letters of support as part of the grant application, Beisswenger said.

One outreach possibility involves starting an apprenticeship program that would pair less experienced artists with master artists in various disciplines. Such apprenticeship programs are commonly a part of statewide folk arts programs, Beisswenger said.

Lectures, concerts, exhibitions and folk arts festivals also might be organized by the new office, Beisswenger said, with the new coordinator expected to seek out grant funding.

Folklore research at UA in the past has included the work of notable researchers such as Mary Celestia Parler, an English and folklore professor known for recording Ozark folk songs. She taught at UA from 1948 to 1975, according to the university. Her work has been archived at UA and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The folk arts coordinator position "has been at various locations around Arkansas since the early 1980s," Beisswenger said, most recently at Arkansas State University.

But three years ago the program was canceled, he said.

An American Folklore Society grant awarded to Arkansas State paid for a feasibility study to see if there was interest around the state in reviving the program.

Elaine Thatcher, a Utah-based folklorist and consultant, wrote the December 2016 study, recommending that UA libraries host the revived program. A statewide program, along with doing new research, "can provide sort of an overarching and coordinating function," Thatcher said.

Existing arts organizations in Arkansas support the folk arts but "have their own niche," Thatcher said, adding that a statewide program can help "fill the gaps" when needed.

At UA, "I saw an enthusiasm for being able to support this kind of a program, and that's really important," Thatcher said.

Metro on 05/23/2018

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