University Libraries Receive Grant to House Statewide Folk and Traditional Arts Program

Mary Celestia Parler tape recording Fred C. Smith and unidentified musician in Oriole Barber Shop, Bentonville, Arkansas, ca 1950s.
Photo from Mary Celestia Parler Photographs, MC 896

Mary Celestia Parler tape recording Fred C. Smith and unidentified musician in Oriole Barber Shop, Bentonville, Arkansas, ca 1950s.

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded the University of Arkansas Libraries $30,000 to establish a statewide Folk and Traditional Arts program after a feasibility study funded by the American Folklore Society in 2017 identified the University of Arkansas Libraries as a strong future location.

According to the NEA Folk and Traditional Arts website, "The folk and traditional arts are rooted in and reflective of the cultural life of a community. Community members may share a common ethnic heritage, cultural mores, language, religion, occupation or geographic region. These vital and constantly reinvigorated artistic traditions are shaped by values and standards of excellence that are passed from generation to generation, most often within family and community, through demonstration, conversation, and practice." 

University Libraries will work closely with the Arkansas Arts Council, the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design and other cultural agencies in the northwest region and throughout the state to develop and support initiatives that support and document traditional arts, crafts, music, dance, narrative arts and other traditional practices that reflect the variety of cultures within Arkansas. This will include arts that have existed in families and communities in Arkansas for generations, as well as the arts of relatively new cultural groups from areas such as the Marshall Islands and various Latin American countries. 

Additionally, the Libraries will conduct fieldwork to document folk and traditional arts, establish new apprenticeship programs, offer and participate in scholarly conferences and coordinate and advise organizations seeking to foster traditional arts. 

"Libraries are expanding and becoming more proactive in their efforts to find and generate information," said Drew Beisswenger, associate professor for University Libraries and principal investigator for the grant project. "They're becoming involved in projects that use fieldwork and technology to document regional photographs and other expressions of cultural artifacts. The work of the Folk and Traditional Arts program will embody some of these new directions."

Most states have at least one folk and traditional arts program, which is typically housed in state arts councils. Arkansas initiated its first such program in the early 1980s with the Arkansas Arts Council. Most recently, the program was administered out of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, where it was active from 2006 to 2015. Since then, the state has been without a folk and traditional arts program. 


Drew Beisswenger, associate professor
University Libraries

Kelsey Lovewell Lippard, public relations coordinator
University Libraries


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