Embracing Tradition and Innovation: Reflections from Texas Folklife's 2023 Apprenticeship Program
Written By Marco Guarino
Dear Fans and Supporters of Texas Folklife,
I’m Marco, Texas Folklife’s Apprenticeship Program Coordinator. I started at Texas Folklife this time last year, making this year my first full season coordinating the Apprenticeship Program. It has been a welcome challenge to fulfill my role as the Apprenticeship Program Coordinator for a variety of reasons.
First, I recognize that the Apprenticeship Program has been a staple at Texas Folklife since 1987, so its legacy has undeniable weight, both in the catalog of Texas Folklife’s work and mission statement, as well as the countless artists it has helped propel forward throughout their careers. With this in mind, I am aware of my own responsibility in how my work at Texas Folklife has the ability to shape future careers in the arts, and I appreciate and honor this responsibility tremendously.
Secondly, "what is folk?" is a recurring question in my conversations with artists and pundits in the world of Folk Art. This question has different answers. Answering this question requires a critical lens as cultural and technological shifts occur in real-time. Some connect the word folk to cultural productions that evoke nostalgia, while others place the word in a present reality, where people make art, regardless of whether a practice is tied to a tradition. Further magnifying the concept that every tradition has its place and time of origin. Regardless, as culture and technology evolve, I find it useful for the word folk to live somewhere in between. In this liminal space, we, as a community, are able to be more pliable and more inclusive.
This approach leaves room for new developments, giving space for future syncretism within Texas. In the coming years, I would like to see more work that challenges our imagination of what it means to be Folk while simultaneously retaining a sense of connection, history, and wisdom from past cultural tradition bearers and teachers.
Along these lines, our 2023 Apprenticeship Program cohort has proved to be very inspiring! The variety of projects and art forms in this year’s cohort really brings home the fact that Texas is ever-increasing in cultural (and technological) diversity. The Apprenticeship Program teams run the gamut, from artists that make artisanal fishing lures and trail riders to Indian classical dance and sitar. And many art forms in between.
There is also incredible diversity in age range among our participants. We have mentors in their early 20s and apprentices in their late 50s. This detail takes the focus off of the preconceived notion that we, as human beings, are either too young to teach or too old to learn. This is really inspiring to me as it gives me hope for the future of art making (and the future in general) as well as giving me the comfort in knowing that it is never too late to follow a dream. We also have amazing community members in this year’s cohort, from Sonny Mehta and Keli Rosa Cabunoc to Michael Sinks and Aboubacar Sylla, among others. Aside from working on their craft, they work hard to give visibility and support to their community through community organizing and other forms of cultural production. It is a real honor to have them on board.
Lastly, our Apprenticeship Program Showcase will be a virtual event this year and broadcast live on our Facebook page. The event will take place on Sunday, August 27th, at 1 pm CT. Please come and support your fellow Texan artists!