Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The Folklife Center at Perkins Center for the Arts has launched into the new fiscal year, with plans for a variety of new and continuing projects.  I should explain that our annual work cycle is geared to the State of New Jersey's fiscal year, which begins each year on 1 July, and ends on 30 June.  This varies significantly, of course, from the standard calendar year, and thus we refer to our working year as "FY15", shorthand for "Fiscal Year 2015", which actually commenced on July 1st (rather than on January 1st) 2014. 

Looking back, FY14 was a productive year for the Folklife Center.  We participated in a statewide project with other folklife centers, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, to place artists in residence at local schools, in order to expose students and the school community in general to traditional and community arts.  The team from Perkins Center worked at the Delair School in Pennsauken Township with collaborating artists Queen Nur, an African American storyteller and cultural activist, and Giovanna Robinson, a Panamanian dancer, singer, and educator.  Our work culminated in a program in the school auditorium, featuring original stories and an original dance and song cycle -- conceived, presented, and performed by participating students.  The audience (and the students themselves) loved it!

The Folklife Center also played an integral role in the development of an exhibit and related workshops which opened at Perkins-Collingswood in May.  "Found Artists: On Country Roads, Side Streets and Back Alleys of South Jersey" was titled after the book of the same name by guest curator Sally Willowbee.   In preparation for the exhibit, I interviewed the participating artists and developed exhibit panel texts based on those interviews (see previous posts on this blog for the panel texts and a selection of photographs).  The audio files from those interviews are now part of the Perkins Center Archive Files, a growing repository of images, sound recordings, and other documentation relating to the diverse cultural life of South Jersey.  Once the archive files are fully and properly set up, they will serve as an important resource for artists, educators, and residents of our region and state.

To round out FY14, the Folklife Center, in collaboration with the Jersey Shore Folklife Center at Tuckerton Seaport, contributed to "NJ350", a statewide program in celebration of New Jersey's 350th anniversary.  Working through the Main Street Program in Hammonton, who were leading the effort to celebrate the event in that city, I conducted fieldwork in the area, and with help from Linda Stanton of Lines on the Pines and Jersey Shore Folklife Center staff, identified and recruited traditional artists to the event, which was presented the last weekend of May.  During the current fiscal year, we expect to continue this work by providing cultural programming in support of NJ350 events scheduled for Mt. Holly, and possibly also Atlantic City.  I'll provide information and updates on these programs as they become available.

Looking ahead, though too soon to discuss FY15 projects in detail, I can say that in addition to our continuing work with NJ350, we'll be back in the schools with another artist residency program, yet to be identified.  We've also begun planning for a larger initiative, with a possible focus on river-related culture and history, to be explored and presented through the rich array of artifacts and narratives associated with the Delaware River and tributary creeks.  Beyond that, and in keeping with past practice, I'll continue to do general fieldwork in the region, to identify traditional artists, explore local and community history, and document aspects of South Jersey history and culture.  One possible locale for general fieldwork is the Hammonton area, in order to follow up on work begun there in FY14 and explore new opportunities there. This and other fieldwork may someday contribute to exhibit and program development, while also nourishing and sustaining the growing Perkins Center Archive Files.

That's all there is to report for now, but there's much more information to follow on these and other topics.  So please be sure to check this blog for updates!

Rear Range Lighthouse, Paulsboro, painting by Ray Miller