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May 31, 2011

Folk Festivals: Showcasing Cultures Throughout the Country

“Well, surely I knew what Folklife was, in fact, I was Folklife!”- O. T. Baker, Texas Folklife Festival Founder, 1976 oral history interview with the Institute of Texan Cultures

They say that imitation is the best form of flattery.  So it should come as no surprise that as the National Mall is slowly altered into a small city of tents, culinary smells, and cultural sounds for the upcoming Smithsonian Folklife Festival that communities in San Antonio and East Lansing begin to undergo similar transformations.

A member of the Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang makes chili at the 1968 Festival of American Folklife

This summer in San Antonio, the Texas Folklife Festival will hold its 40th festival. But such anniversaries cannot be celebrated without the key aspirations of a visionary. In 1968, the Smithsonian invited the Institute of Texan Cultures to arrange programs for the second Festival of American Folklife. The ITC Exhibitions Coordinator, O.T. Baker, coordinator of the Texas exhibit in Washington, returned home with big plans—to replicate a similar event celebrating the cultural heritage of Texas in San Antonio.  The wheels were set in motion. The concept of creating a festival that brought together different ethnic groups to celebrate and share their traditions was ingenious. Proceeds from the event would be given back to the participating cultures so the customs would continue to stay alive and be passed on through the generations. And, most importantly, the event’s focus directly correlated to the mission of the Institute of Texan Cultures. O.T. Baker’s leadership and dedication came to fruition from September 7-10, 1972, when the first Texas Folklife Festival was held on the grounds of the Institute in HemisFair Park.

Approximately 20 years later, a similar story played out in Michigan. As part of Michigan’s 1987 sesquicentennial celebration of statehood, the Michigan State University Museum staff worked closely with the Smithsonian Institution to present Michigan’s cultural traditions at the annual Festival of American Folklife. Through presentations by cooks, storytellers, musicians, craftspeople and others who represented the state’s diverse regional, ethnic, and occupational heritage, more than a million visitors to the National Mall were introduced to Michigan folklife. The staff then brought the festival program to East Lansing as the centerpiece of the first Michigan Festival – a showcase of the state’s performing and creative arts. Renamed the Festival of Michigan Folklife (FMF), the event became the largest annual exhibition of the state’s traditional culture. Over its history, the Festival of Michigan Folklife has provided a platform for the presentation of more than 1,400 artists—the vast majority had never been presented by any other arts organization in the state.

Today, the partnerships with the Smithsonian Institution are still evolving and flourishing. Last year, the Texas Folklife Festival featured the Smithsonian Folkways Grammy award winning group, Los Texmaniacs and Michigan State University Museum staff continues to work with the Smithsonian to develop new programs for the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

May 24, 2011

conference road trip to focus on community museums

Anacostia Community Museum

Yes, there are Smithsonian museums off the National Mall!  Most Affiliates know about the ones in New York City, but the Institution has another gem of a museum across the river in the Anacostia Community Museum.  Affiliations’ conference participants will be able to experience this resource on a special road trip designed to explore issues of specific concern to community museums.

Opened in 1967, the Anacostia Community Museum documents and interprets the impact of historical and contemporary social issues on communities.  After a narrated tour (on the bus) en route to the Museum, participants will receive a guided tour of the pioneering exhibition, Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner, Connecting Communities through LanguageThis show details the historical journey made by Africans, their language and their music, to the Americas.

Doing the Ring Shout in Georgia, ca. 1930s, from the Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers, Anacostia Museum Archives

Following the tour, Affiliates will sit down with the Museum’s staff to discuss the challenges and opportunities of working at the community level.  The Museum’s curators will also discuss projects underway with potential for Affiliate collaboration, including professional development and the Urban Waterways project.

Hope to see you there!  For information on the 2011 Affiliations’ National Conference, and to register, click here.

NMAI colleague couriers artifacts cross-country to Affiliates

Thanks to Raj Solanki of the National Museum of the American Indian for the guest blog post.  

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) received a loan request from Smithsonian Affiliate Riverside Metropolitan Museum in California for their exhibition Beyond Craft: American Indian Women Artists. Curated by Dr. Brenda Focht, this exhibition includes four contemporary Native artists Anita Fields, Pat Courtney Gold, Teri Greeves, and Margaret Wood.

Preparing to install the quilt at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum

What was so compelling about the exhibit, is the relationship that the Museum and Dr. Focht developed with each artist. Each artist was a co-curator to the exhibition and had a hand in developing content and programming. Because of this, NMAI eagerly said yes to the loan request of a Margaret Wood work titled Ribbon Shirt Quilt (NMAI 26/5800).

In March, I couriered the quilt and oversaw the installation at Riverside Museum. As a courier, I get to “see the behind the scenes” before a show goes up, and I was impressed by the objects chosen for the exhibit. Some objects came directly from the artists and private collectors. Other works were lent by other Smithsonian Affiliates – the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and Michigan State University Museum in East Lansing. I wished I could have stayed longer to see their “Meet the Artist” Program, which took place in April. However, the objects spoke for themselves.

Each artist has a way of conveying a story in her medium. The Riverside Museum allowed space for each artist to tell her story whether it was family history or Native identity in today’s context. Displayed prominently is Margaret Wood’s Ribbon Shirt Quilt, which was inspired by the meaning of a ribbon shirt as a symbol of ‘Indianness’. Explained on her website, Margaret writes “The origins of the ribbon shirts harkens to the fringed leather shirts of the Plains Indians…When woven cloth and ribbons became available as trade items, Plains women used the new materials to create facsimiles of the original leather shirts. There are some tribal styles and characteristics and a lot of variety and originality displayed in the ribbon shirts being made. They are worn by men, women, babies, elders and teenagers.”

Margaret Wood's Ribbon Shirt Quilt, installed.

The Riverside Metropolitan Museum is in the heart of Riverside, CA and is part of the city’s effort to revitalize the area. The façade of the building is under renovation. But don’t let the scaffolding fool you. It is not closed! This little building offers some great exhibits on natural history of the area, history on the Native population as well as the community that settled in the area and its continuing growth.

The Riverside Museum was a recipient of the 2010 National Museum of the American Indian’s Indigenous Contemporary Arts Program.

Look for Raj at the 2011 Affiliations’ National Conference Resource Fair on Tuesday afternoon, June 14.  The first five Affiliate staff members to mention this blog post win a prize!

May 23, 2011

Coming Up in Affiliateland in June 2011

Summer is in full swing with great events at Affiliates!

NATIONWIDE:
The Smithsonian’s Latino Center hosts its Latino Young Ambassadors in June, which brings students to Washington, DC for a week of cultural enrichment programs.  Following their Washington week, the Ambassadors will return to Affiliate sites for month-long internships in their home communities. 
Participating Affiliates include: Museum of Latin American Art (Long Beach, CA); California Science Center (Los Angeles, CA); Chabot Space and Science Center (Oakland, CA); Miami Science Museum (Miami, FL); Adler Planetarium (Chicago, IL); Museum of Flight (Seattle, WA); Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico  (San Juan, PR); International Museum of Art and Science (McAllen, TX).

Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture

WASHINGTON:
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture celebrates 10 years as an Affiliate with an award ceremony featuring Affiliations Director Harold Closter in Spokane, 6.2.

GEORGIA:
At the Controls exhibition of cockpit photographs of aircraft and spacecraft from the National Air and Space Museum opens at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, 6.4.

CALIFORNIA:
National Museum of Natural History Museum scientist Rusty Russell leads a citizen science program with the Riverside Metropolitan Museum in Riverside, 6.11 

PUERTO RICO:
A workshop on “Linking the Museum to the Classroom through Education” will take place at the Universidad del Turabo in Gurabo, 6.23-25.

NEW YORK:
Monica Smith, Exhibition Program Manager at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, will give a public lecture on the history of the electric guitar at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, 6.26.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Warriors at the Smithsonian Affiliations Conference

Michelle Delaney signs her book at the exhibition. Photos by Ashley and Aaron Davis of Happy Heart , LLC

In 2006, Michelle Delaney, the director of the Smithsonian’s new Consortium for Understanding the American Experience and a curator of photography at the National Museum of American History, first visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (BBHC). She traveled to this Smithsonian Affiliate in Cody, Wyoming, to research her book, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Warriors: A Photographic History by Gertrude Kasëbier. The potential to collaborate was immediately apparent to both the BBHC and the Smithsonian. In 2009, Delaney received a fellowship to research a companion exhibition, which  debuted in Cody at the BBHC in April of 2010.  Now the exhibition has come to the Smithsonian’s International Gallery - just in time for the 2011 Affiliations National Conference!

The exhibition displays photographer Gertrude Kasëbier’s (1852-1934) work which was inspired by a grand parade of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West troupe en route to New York City’s Madison Square Garden.  Kasëbier decided to document the participants and began a project to photograph Sioux Indians traveling with the show. On view are approximately 60 images from her work and artifacts on loan from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s collections.

An image from the exhibition by photographer Gertrude Kasebier, National Museum of American History

As part of the Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference, we’re pleased to have Michelle Delaney speak about the exhibition and join us for a tour on Tuesday afternoon, June 14. We hope to see you there!

For information on the Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference, and to register, click here.

May 4, 2011

50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides

Special thanks for this guest post to Allyson Nakamoto, Teacher Programs Manager at the Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, California).

Panelists (L to R): Robert Singleton, Helen Singleton, Sybil Jordan Hampton (moderator), Tamio Wakayama

I often take for granted how easy it is to follow breaking news. To find out what happened during a raid on a compound in Pakistan, I can turn on a 24-hours news channel or click on a few links to get caught up.

Student with his artwork inspired by the Freedom Rides

But 50 years ago the medium of television was new.  And 50 years ago today, the first buses of Freedom Riders (and three reporters) left Washington, D.C. and headed South to test Boynton v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that had desegregated interstate travel. What followed changed the course of the United States history.

The Freedom Rides have been on our minds a lot this year.  On February 9, 2011 the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History organized a Web cast and National Youth Summit that brought together Freedom Riders in D.C. and engaged five Smithsonian Affiliates from across the nation to discuss the meaning of the Freedom Rides and the role of young people in shaping America’s past and future.

JANM was honored to have been selected as the West Coast venue for this program and streamed the Webcast to a live audience of students from LAUSD’s Civitas School of Leadership and Ribet Academy. Following the Webcast, Dr. Robert and Mrs. Helen Singleton, two Los Angeles-based Freedom Riders, and Mr. Tamio Wakayama, a Japanese Canadian member of SNCC, were on a panel moderated by Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton, a member of JANM’s Board of Trustees and herself an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. We were star struck!!!

This has gotten us thinking about how the Freedom Rides impacted Japanese Americans, and especially how it may have emboldened those in the Redress Movement. What were the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei who watched these images broadcast on national television (just as that medium was becoming commonplace) thinking and feeling as they watched the buses burning, the cruel racism, and brave individuals standing up for what was right?

What would you have been thinking if you had been watching those Freedom Riders make their way South under the “protection” of Boynton v. Virginia?

P.S. To learn more about the Freedom Rides, tune into your PBS station on May 16 and also we highly recommend The Children by David Halberstam. Learn more about new generation of young people who are about to retrace the path of the Freedom Riders. And, maybe you can catch a glimpse of the Singletons when Oprah Winfrey reunites the Freedom Riders on May 4.

Photographer: Tracy Kumono

 

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