Stories from Deep in the Heart
Texas Folklife’s Stories from Deep in the Heart (“Stories”) is an award-winning youth folklore, technology, and audio documentary training project supported by the NEA, Austin Independent School District (AISD), COA, and KUT 90.5FM, Austin’s NPR affiliate. Since the launch of this program in 2009, our Stories team has worked with AISD teachers to provide TEKS-aligned program curriculum, teaching students the basics of audio production through interview and fieldwork projects, which connects them with community tradition bearers, musicians, folk and traditional artists, storytellers, and the family traditions of their peers. Throughout the history of the program, we have served over 3,000 students and over 900 teachers, who created 160 unique audio documentaries that have reached a broadcast and online audience of over 2.5 million. In 2022, we also launched the Community Folklife Fellowship program, which provided ten fellows with community training in oral history, interviewing, audio storytelling, and podcast production. The Folklorist Next Door podcast, launched in December 2022, features these fellows’ work.
Stories maintains an ongoing presence in Austin ISD schools as an Arts Partner through the Creative Learning Initiative (CLI). We recently completed projects with students at Akins High School and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and are currently working on a project with Travis High School. In addition, we are in talks with Eastside Early College High School and Martin Middle School to carry out Stories programming in 2023 and 2024. In addition to training students, the Stories program also trains teachers through the Summer Stories Institute. This two week-long workshop each summer provides teachers with the opportunity to work with professional folklorists, journalists and radio producers to learn technology and audio documentation skills they can then incorporate for projects in their own classrooms.
In addition to partnerships with schools throughout Texas, Stories programs have catered to veterans and other community members. Our Stories for Creative Forces program has provided Texas veterans with training in audio documentation and songwriting. The Little Texas Stories program provides free resources for communities on how to conduct audio documentation projects independently, which they can then submit to Texas Folklife for public broadcast. Additionally, in 2022 we launched the Community Folklife Fellowship program, which provided ten community-based fellows with training in oral history, interviewing, audio storytelling, and podcast production. Participants learned to document community traditions in their own regions through workshops and community partnerships. Participants also worked with Texas Folklife staff to create episodes of The Folklorist Next Door podcast, a new podcast initiative that debuted in December 2022.
Apprenticeship in Folk & Traditional Arts
Our longstanding Apprenticeship in Folk & Traditional Arts program, dating back to 1988, connects master artists to skilled apprentices for personalized training and mentorship, breathing life into fields that might otherwise be lost while financially supporting the participants. Past apprentices have studied artistic disciplines ranging from conjunto accordion to zydeco dance to Native American storytelling. To date, we’ve served over 370 individuals, representing a diversity of geographies and cultures.
In 2022, the Apprenticeship Program supported nine mentors and apprentice artist pairs in traditional art forms including cartonería, flamenco dancing, conjunto accordion, polychromatic ceramics, comida casera, veena (Indian string instrument), erhu (Chinese fiddle), conjunto accordion tuning, Western swing guitar, and Native American storytelling. Program participants came from throughout the state of Texas, including from Waco, Sugar Land, Brownsville, San Antonio, Argyle, Austin, McKinney, and Wimberly. See this multimedia presentation showcasing the work of 2022 Apprenticeship Program participants for more information.
2022 Apprenticeship program participants highlighted the impact that the Apprenticeship program had in their lives and their ability to preserve traditional art forms. “[The veena] helps my community learn about our lineage and what exactly brought us to where we are,” apprentice Vishnu Dokka of Austin says of his study of the veena with mentor Smt. Rajeswari Pariti. “Learning the erhu has not only given me a better understanding of Chinese culture, but more importantly, it has helped me build my confidence to showcase my culture as an immigrant,” apprentice Eric Wang of McKinney emphasizes. Apprentice Manuel Tovar of Brownsville adds: “I can only hope that [my participation in the Apprenticeship Program] will inspire people through my community to help this music continue to grow with future generations of musicians and music lovers.”
By refining artist mentors’ approaches to their crafts, developing and broadening apprentices’ skills, and encouraging the transmission of knowledge within and between cultural communities, the Apprenticeship Program fostered the continuity of the folk and traditional arts in Texas. In addition to the collaborations between mentors and apprentices, each team presented their work through two virtual showcases broadcast for the general public through Texas Folklife’s YouTube and Facebook pages in August 2022. 662 people attended these virtual showcases. Ben Doyle of Bend Productions oversaw the technical production of the event. Humanities scholars Virginia Grice and Mark Brill moderated the events, putting the nine apprenticeship teams into conversation with each other for a dynamic discussion of folklife traditions in Texas. In doing so, this project inspired exchange and connection within and between participants’ and viewers’ shared and overlapping communities.