SOUTHERN ARTS FEDERATION
The Southern Arts Federation was founded in 1975 as the Southern Federation of State Arts Agencies. It is a private, non-profit organization that consists of the nine state arts agencies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The Regional Folk Arts Program was created in 1989 and aims to promote, preserve, and present the traditional folk and ethnic arts of the South.
In December of 1990, the Southern Arts Federation hosted a conference in Atlanta titled "PROMOTING SOUTHERN CULTURAL HERITAGE: A Conference on Impact," which was the first regional gathering of diverse professionals in the South. The participants were all working in some way on heritage programming to look critically at our models and paradigms to create a more holistic approach to our work and assess the profound impact we have upon Southern cultural life.
I imagine this is where I best fit within this particular gathering. It is unusual to find myself as the only folklorist at a conference settingwe tend to flock together ordinarily. But folklorists have more in common with you in the Park Service than may be at first apparent.
From my own experience, one of my first assignments as a graduate student in Folk Studies at Western Kentucky University was to transcribe and index oral history tapes from Cumberland Gap National Park. Interviews with families who had been moved off the mountain when the National Park Service (NPS) bought the property were given to folklore graduate students to archive. These tapes were later used to develop National Park Service interpretation of life on the top of the mountain. These tapes also contained a wealth of folklore of prime interest to the Folk Studies Department at Western. Many years later I would study vernacular architecture with Henry Glassie and work with historic archaeologists in Florida, all confirming for me the interconnected nature of the work done by folklorists, historic preservationists, and archaeologists.
Working with the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs, we were placed under the Division of Historic Resources and folklorists worked closely with the State Historic Preservation Officer. I was charged one year with aiding a rural county achieve National Historic Register status for the county jail building. The building was so severely compromised architecturally that National Register status seemed impossible. Yet, in terms of CULTURAL significance, the building was clearly deserving of nomination. The importance of the building to the community was seen in its folk culturethrough local legends, songs, anecdotes, and other symbolic forms of culture. The jail building did receive register status, the first time a structure (in Florida) was accepted based upon its symbolic significance rather than its architectural integrity.
Almost all states now have a state folklife office, and within our region we have many folklorists willing to collaborate on Park Service and preservation projects. As your mission is expanding to deal with sites that are associated with the common man our work is overlapping more and more. The rapid rise of "cultural tourism", especially in the Southeast, has impacted the work of us all. In these times it is extremely important to form coalitions to ensure a holistic approach to cultural conservation.
Yesterday I was struck by the parallel research being done by folklorists and participants at this meeting. Mike Harmon told us about undocumented Native American sites in Pisgah National Forest, and I immediately thought of Barbara Duncan of Franklin, North Carolina. Dr. Duncan is a folklorist who is interviewing Cherokee families about extant Native American holy sites in Appalachia, in order to protect them. Using her folklore training, she is documenting the cultural significance of many sacred sites in the mountains.
Delce Dyer and Quentin Bass are researching and inventorying cultural landscapes in the Cherokee National Forest. Their work is complimented by the work of Bob Gates (State Folklorist of Kentucky) and Robert Cogswell (State Folklorist of Tennessee), who are surveying the living craft traditions of the same area in Appalachia.
Michael Southern's slides show the connection between the vernacular architectural surveys conducted in North Carolina and Virginia by folklorists and historic preservationists. Anne Rogers mentioned white oak fish traps that were made historically in North Carolina. These same traps continue to be made today on the panhandle of Florida and most of Mississippi to trap catfish. And finally, Liz Straw's paper on the Cumberland Homesteads project ties in directly with folklorist Robert Cogswell's work with the woodworkers and basketmakers of Cumberland County [Tennessee] today.
As folklorists, historic preservationists, and historians we need to talk to each other. We need to stop conversing solely within our own disciplines and open a channel for multidisciplinary programming. This gathering [the Appalachian Cultural Resources Workshop] is a start in the right direction.
I wanted to mention here two or three projects that incorporate this multi-disciplinary approach which may be seen as good models for the programming we can develop in the future. The first model is the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in Louisiana. This park is devoted to cultural rather than natural resources. The park has several sites that interpret the traditional cultures of Louisiana. The Eunice site is located at the old Liberty Theater which is in the heart of this small Cajun town. Eunice holds a regular Saturday night Cajun radio show. The show is put on by and for local Cajun residents and is conducted entirely in Frenchin some ways it is similar to the original "Grand Ole Opry" with a Cajun base. The National Park Service has collaborated with the local sponsors to open this event to tourists, yet they have worked diligently to maintain the cultural integrity of the show. Original plans to have the show change to an English language format (to accommodate the tourists) were vigorously opposed by the local sponsors. By listening to local concerns and working cooperatively with the people who are impacted most from this Park program (the Cajun residents of Eunice), the NPS agreed to maintain the French language format and other aspects of the radio broadcast that have preserved cultural authenticity and ensured local support. Most importantly, the resulting event is "real" and has proven to be exactly what cultural tourism should be about.
A second project will involve the state folklife programs in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolinaas well as their state preservation offices, arts agencies, and humanities councils. Plans are under way to mount a major retrospective exhibition on the Arts & Crafts Movement in the Appalachian mountains and to assess its subsequent impact upon the region. The exhibit will look historically at the movement and also bring in contemporary legacies. Schools like the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, Berea College in Kentucky, the Arrowmont School in Tennessee and Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina are all the result of the original movement and its goal to use traditional arts and crafts toward developing economic independence for mountain residents. This project, which will look at how well that goal may or may not have been achieved, will involve specialists from several disciplines.
Another project where folklorists and historic preservationists are working together is the Maryland Lighthouse Project. The Maryland Historic Trust, the preservation wing of the Maryland Division of Historical and Cultural Resources, has created a three-pronged approach to documenting the 125 lighthouses built on the Chesapeake Bay since 1822. A team consisting of a folklorist, an historic preservationist, and an architect work together in the field. Only twenty-five lighthouses remain, and none of these has a residential keeper today, so not only is an architectural type disappearing from the landscape, but a way of life is being lost. This project is designed to accomplish a multidisciplinary examination of the structures, their history, and the folk culture surrounding their use.
One final example is the Blood Run National Historic Landmark site in Iowa. The site shows little evidence of Indian occupation (remnants of funerary mounds only) with European developments being more obvious on the landscape. A state team is now developing a new historical context that is broader than the Oneota occupation from 1300 to 1750. The new context (being developed with a multidisciplinary team) includes consultation with amateur artifact collectors, archaeologists, other academics, descendants of Indian and European inhabitants, governmental agencies, politicians, developers, and local residents. Future development of the site by the State Historical Society will preserve the site's cultural as well as natural and archaeological resources, especially respecting the site's spiritual significance to the contemporary Native Americans in the region. The project is designed also to be responsive to the human needs of the local community.
As Luther Propst and The Conservation Foundation ask the question "How can we save our special places?", folklorists working in state government offices are asking the question "How can we save our diverse and special lifestylesour folkways?" Folklorists deal with the intangibles, but these intangibles comprise the mortar that holds the tangible, physical landscape together. Each structure and physical site on the land is the direct product of cultural learning and folklifethe intangible side of culture.
The conventional view of cultural [resources] survey work is item oriented, emphasizing artifacts and structures over other forms of human expression. Yet, cultural values are lodged in both the tangible and intangible resources at hand. The current framework for protecting cultural resources is now shifting (at the national level) to enable a more integrated approach to heritage protection and to deal with cultural dynamism. Folk arts and other forms of traditional expression, such as tales, songs, beliefs, foodways, folk medicine, and other items of folklore, are part of the cultural ecosystem that we all are documenting and promoting. Conservation that is responsive to the multicultural diversity of the American experience must be related more effectively to federal and state historic preservation efforts.
Nearly a decade ago, Congress requested a report on the protection of intangible aspects of American heritage that would build upon the work of historic preservationists and archaeologists who were already surveying the impact of government projects upon the tangible cultural resources of the land. The report was published in 1983 under the auspices of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress as Cultural Conservation: The Protection of Cultural Heritage in the United States. Just last year, following up on this report, 150 professionals met in Washington to assess the state of cultural conservation and devise a plan for its future. Participants represented a number of disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, architecture, art history, environmental studies, folklore and folklife, forestry, historic preservation, law, and planning and design. What united these representatives from diverse fields was an interest in developing a more integrated approach to the protection of cultural and environmental diversity in the United States and beyond.
Work being done today in both the public and private sector is:
*linking cultural and natural conservation
It has become apparent in the work that we do that there are fallacious assumptions underpinning the bureaucratic division of heritage into nature, culture, history, arts, humanities, etc. These are all constructs that hamper our work. Our models for conservation are similarly flawed. How, for instance, does a living history farmstead in any way provide for a true representation of culture? How much do we rely upon our own academic biases in the creation of public programs, rather than looking to the effected communities in planning? Kent Cave mentioned this issue yesterday when he challenged that we give the public what they expect rather than a true picture of cultural heritage.
We must consider ourselves as activists and advocates whether we want to wear that mantle or not. Whether we dig for pot shards, do elevations of derelict buildings, or record folk medicine beliefs for posterity, our role as cultural brokers puts us squarely in the center of these controversial issues. Our mission must be to empower local communities to manage the change wrought by outside forces, and we are that force. Nowhere is this more clearly needed as in the overwhelming push toward selling the South through cultural tourism. The question is not whether change will come: it is rather how that change will be met and managed.
Our only true hope to accomplish our mutual goals is to begin the process of cross-fertilization within existing agencies and disciplines, to share our resources and varied perspectives.
Last Updated: 30-Sep-2008