In 1984, three professional folklorists Pat Jasper, Elizabeth “Betsy” Peterson, and Kay Turner conducted the Texas Folk Art Survey, journeying around Texas in search of Texas folkways. What they found, in communities large and small from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande, was a vital, creative and often extraordinary cultural expression. The resulting landmark exhibition, Handmade and Heartfelt: Contemporary Folk Art in Texas, toured Texas museums throughout 1985 and 1986. They founded Texas Folklife Resources (now dba Texas Folklife) to continue this process of discovery, and to connect diverse communities through a celebration of shared traditions.
Texas Folklife promotes, presents and documents the state’s rich cultural legacy through a vibrant mix of exhibitions, performances, community residencies, apprenticeships, and educational programs. Texas Folklife is committed to preserving the diverse living heritage of Texans, while exploring the vital role of tradition in contemporary society. Dubbed “one of the state’s true cultural treasures” by the Austin American-Statesman, Texas Folklife is widely viewed as a model for public folk arts programming for the joyful experiences we make possible. Programs such as the “Big Squeeze” statewide youth accordion contest and the “Accordion Kings & Queens” concert bring together diverse audiences to share and experience Texas traditions. We have produced national multi-media projects supported by National Public Radio and PBS, including The Border Radio Show and The Big Squeeze documentary. We are now in the post-production phase of a short documentary film about Santa Muerte, a Mexican folk saint with a growing presence in Texas.
Texas Folklife benefits from a strong reputation among regional and national peers and colleagues in the arts. The American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C. has invited us multiple years to present Texas artists such as blues legend Barbara Lynn, trio Los Tres Reyes, conjunto Los Texmaniacs, and Western Swing and Texas fiddle band The Quebe Sisters at The Library of Congress’ Coolidge Auditorium and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in their “Home Grown: The Music of America” series. The National Endowment for the Arts has consistently funded a number of programs, including our youth media program “Stories from Deep in the Heart”, “A Place at the Table,” a statewide study of regional food traditions, and our longstanding “Apprenticeships in the Folk & Traditional Arts” program, with the support of a State Arts Partnership Award with TCA. Recently, the Grammy Museum Foundation granted Texas Folklife a major award for our Archival Preservation Project, helping us to digitize, catalog, and share archival audio holdings that represent a slice of Texas music culture and history.