This week I had the honor of attending a private meeting with the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. Jane Chu, and a few folklorists from across the country. The purpose of the meeting was to relay the importance of the folk and traditional arts field to Dr. Chu, and offer our services and support in the work of the NEA.
In several years past when the NEA has been under threats of funding cuts, it is the folk and traditional arts that has the power to reach across isles for bipartisan support of the arts. Everyone has a cultural heritage in their part of the country manifested in artistic forms - music, crafts, food, celebrations; these traditions and expressions are held dear to most people's hearts, and most people can intuitively understand their value and the importance of their preservation.
The distinct cultural practices around this country make up our personality as a nation. Many say the United States does not have culture other than shopping, malls, and Hollywood, but we do - from Appalachian old time music, to Mississippi Delta blues, Louisiana Creole culture, Native American basket weaving, cowboy life, and border Conjunto, we have a rich tapestry of distinctive and individualized colors, sights and sounds that make up the great quilt of this country. One participant of this meeting, Chike Nwoffiah, established that the U.S. helps preserve cultures from around the world. Immigrants bring their cultural practices with them and receive support (many times through NEA-funded programs) to preserve those art forms and traditions. A good friend of Texas Folklife can probably attest to that - filmmaker Hector Galan once traveled to Germany on the trail of polka music history; there he was told that polka is no longer played there, that he needed to go to New Braunfels, Texas to find it!
I joke with my staff that every time we travel to DC I feel we are doing our nation's work; indeed, we are. Cultural heritage is extremely important to this country, to all countries. Without heritage, sense of place and personality we do not thrive as people. I'm proud to contribute my part of that when we present some of our state's finest musicians at the Library of Congress and Kennedy Center, or when meeting with staff of the NEA or the Smithsonian, or when collaborating with Americans for the Arts meeting with legislators to explain our work.
I'm also proud and extremely humbled to have been included with this fine group of folklorists, arts administrators and leaders from across the country -
Picture - back row
Amy Kitchener, Executive Director, Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Fresno, San Francisco and Los Angeles, California