Keepers Of Tradition
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Triptych of the Holy Nativity of Christ by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo by Jason Dowdle.
Tin Men by retired sheet-metal workers from Local 17, Boston. Photo by Jason Dowdle.
Quilt by Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association. Photo by Jason Dowdle.
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  The aim of the Massachusetts Cultural Council's (MCC) Folk Arts & Heritage Program is to identify craftspeople, performers and cultural specialists, help sustain the practice of tradition where they live, and increase appreciation of their artistry within the community and beyond.

Since 1999, the MCC — with crucial support from the National Endowment for the Arts — has been committed to putting a vital traditional arts program into place. We have established an ongoing regimen of documentary fieldwork; provided direct support to individual artists through Artist Fellowships and Traditional Arts Apprenticeships; and created visibility for traditional artists through print media, radio broadcasts, and bookings at regional folk festivals.

In an effort to bring greater visibility to Massachusetts folk arts traditions we collaborated with the National Heritage Musuem in producing the exhibition Keepers of Tradition: Art & Folk Heritage in Massachusetts, which ran May 18, 2008-June 7, 2009.

Fieldwork and Documentation
Under the leadership of Maggie Holtzberg, Ph.D., the MCC has established a very strong fieldwork collection. Over 900 individuals, groups, and community organizations have been documented. Our archival holdings now include some 5,305 color slides, 1,010 black and white film negatives, 317 color negatives, 2,911 digital images, 172 cassette tapes, and 237 digital audio recordings.

In addition to building our collection and augmenting the state's folk arts expertise, fieldwork helps us connect traditional artists to resources of which they are often unaware. We consistently fulfill requests for curatorial advice from artistic directors looking for high-quality traditional performing and crafts artists. Fieldwork also continues to play a growing role in the MCC's arts-in-education efforts, including an ambitious teacher's institute launched in 2006 in Springfield, "Explorations in Puerto Rican Culture."

Direct Support for Traditional Artists
We have two active grant programs for traditional artists at the MCC: Artist Fellowships and Traditional Arts Apprenticeships. These programs offer recognition and economic opportunity to traditional artists; preserve and foster understanding of traditional art forms; and recognize cultural competence and the transmission of cultural values.

Artist Fellowships
In 2001, the MCC introduced the category of traditional artists to its Artist Fellowships Program, offered on a biennial basis. The review criteria for Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts include artistic excellence, authenticity, and significance of the artist's work to the traditional community. In FY12, grants were awarded to Cambodian ceramicist Yary Livan and Irish accordion player Joe Derrane. See all the Traditional Arts Fellows and Finalists at Gallery@MCC.

The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program was introduced in 2002 and is offered on a biennial basis. It provides a financial incentive for master artists to identify promising apprentices to whom they might pass on their traditional skills. Review criteria include artistic excellence, the master's standing within the traditional community, significance of the art form, quality of budget and work plan, and demonstrated commitment to the traditional art form. In FY13, the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program funded six apprenticeships, totaling $28,437. Since the inception of the program in 2002, $153,982 has been awarded supporting 42 apprenticeships.

Since 2000, we have partnered with the Institute for Community Research and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts in a grant program called Southern New England Folk & Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. The program offers traditional artists the possibility of working with masters in neighboring states. The Massachusetts artists that have served as either masters or apprentices in 2006/2007 include Donna Hébert (Franco-American fiddling), Angel Sanchez (Puerto Rican vejigante mask making), Chue Yang (Hmong needlework), and Lorraine Hammond (Yankee ballads and rural work songs).

Through a unique partnership with Lowell National Historical Park, state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg has been temporarily assigned to the Park to support the development and expansion of traditional arts programming serving the public. While MCC will continue its work in running a vital state folk arts program, this new endeavor is an exciting opportunity to explore cross-cultural understanding within in the context of a national park based on ethnic heritage, occupational folklore, immigration, and industrial history.

The goal is to engage visitors and more of the region's immigrant and ethnic populations by offering a variety of culturally-relevant public programs at the park year-round. Though the MCC Folk Arts and Heritage Program has worked with the Lowell Folk Festival for over a decade (providing potential crafts artists and musicians, emceeing on stages, etc.) we will be more actively involved in the planning and presentation of folk arts than ever before.

Building on the energy of the Lowell Folk Festival, we recently launched the "Lowell Folklife Series." These free public events of craft, music, dance, and foodways occur throughout the year and are based on MCC's folklife field research within the region's many diverse communities.

At the annual Lowell Folk Festival, we curate and produce "Folk Craft & Foodways" in Lucy Larcom Park, where we showcase some of the extra-musical aspects of traditional folk culture.

Folk Arts & Heritage Program interns assist with research, documentation and support of the state's folk cultural resources. This includes:

1. Working with the Program Manager to identify traditional artists, ethnic and community organizations and agencies working with traditional communities.

2. Assisting with the ongoing development of a folklife database and entering data from folklore fieldwork. (This includes helping to maintain an archive of field collected materials – recorded interviews, slides/digital images/negatives, fieldnotes and log forms – and listening to recorded interviews to create topic indices.)

3. Assisting with the administration of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and Traditional Artist Fellowships.

Interns should have some familiarity with the field of folklore or the related fields of cultural anthropology, American studies, ethnomusicology and oral history. They must have familiarity with spreadsheets and databases. Basic knowledge of the history and cultural make-up of Massachusetts as well as foreign language experience (Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish preferred) is a plus.

To see if a Folk Arts & Heritage Program internship is currently available, search MCC job listings on

Have a Lead?
If you know about a traditional artist or folk tradition who should be documented, please contact Maggie Holtzberg, Folk Arts & Heritage Program Manager.

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