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Michigan Traditional Arts Program

About the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP)

What is folklife?
A Brief History of MTAP
MTAP staff

What is folklife?

"Folklife" or "folklore" are often used as synonyms for "traditional culture" or simply "tradition." As practiced by ethnic, regional, occupational, familial, and religious groups, folklife refers to the traditional expressions through which these communities maintain and pass on their shared sense of beauty, identity, and values.

Generally, folklife is learned by example, through imitation and repetition, rather than through formal instruction such as classes or workshops. Ordinarily, valued and authentic folk practitioners are brought up within a traditional community, learning a repertoire and style from their seniors.

Folklore tends to express the values, tastes, and standards of the cultural community which sustains it. Through a lifetime of practice, tradition bearers refine and reshape their skills, while maintaining the cultural and aesthetic values of their own communities.

Folklore is one of the more conservative aspects of culture, based on patterns, styles, and beliefs shared within specific cultural communities. Tradition bearers are motivated, through the act of creating, to preserve a traditional form that carries group identity and not necessarily to express an innovative personal vision.

Folklore, however, is also a dynamic aspect of culture. "Folklore" describes living traditions that often change over time in response to a changing society.

A Brief History of MTAP

The Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP), develops and implements programs "to advance cross-cultural understanding in a diverse society through the identification, documentation, preservation, and presentation of the traditional arts and cultural heritage of the state of Michigan."

The Michigan State University Museum first initiated ongoing research and presentation of Michigan traditional arts in 1975 with a statewide survey and 1976 exhibition of historical folk art. In 1977, the Folk Arts Division of Michigan State University Museum joined with the Michigan Cooperative Extension Service to provide statewide educational programming and general public services in the area of Michigan's traditional cultural resources. In 1986, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs created a partnership with the Michigan State University Museum to strengthen the support of folk arts and artists in the state.

The activities of the Folk Arts Division to promote awareness, appreciation, and support for Michigan's traditional cultural resources through research, education, and public service are now coordinated under a program known as the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP). Among the major ongoing or long-term MTAP programs are: the annual Festival of Michigan Folklife (1987-1997), the Michigan Heritage Awards (since 1985), the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (since 1987), the Michigan Quilt Project (since 1984), the FOLKPATTERNS program (since 1979), and the Michigan Stained Glass Census (since 1990).

MTAP's longstanding role in coordinating a statewide folklife festival began with the 1985 "Michigan: Whose Story?" festival. In 1987, MTAP collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution to present Michigan's folk artists at the Festival of American Folklife. That same year, MTAP brought the Smithsonian's Michigan program to Michigan with the launching of the Festival of Michigan Folklife. For the twelve years producing that festival, MTAP conducted field research to identify over 1200 folk artists for presentation at the festivals. In 1999, MTAP forged a new partnership with the National Council for the Traditional Arts in Washington D.C., and the City of East Lansing, to co-produce the National Folk Festival 1999-2001. Beginning in 2002, MTAP continues the festival tradition with the launching of the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

Since the mid-1980s MTAP staff have met regularly with state folk arts program staff around the U.S. and have played key roles in state and national arts policy development, evaluation studies, and professional development and training opportunities for both traditional artists and program administrators.

MTAP staff

Staff with day-to-day full- or part-time responsibilities for MTAP collections or activities:

C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D., Curator of Folk Arts
Beth Donaldson, Collections Assistant, Great Lakes Quilt Center and MTAP Research Collections; Manager, Traveling Exhibits Service, and Co-Coordinator, Michigan Stained Glass Census
Julie Levy-Weston, Special Projects Coordinator; Traveling Exhibits Program and
Micah Ling, Collections Assistant
Marsha MacDowell, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Art and Art History and Curator
Stephanie Palagyi, Communications
Mike Secord, Director, Great Lakes Folk Festival, Facilities Manager, Special Events Coordinator
Lynne Swanson, Collections Manager, Cultural Collections
Sunny Wang, Computing Technology Coordinator
Pearl Yee Wong, Collections Coordinator, MTAP Research Collections
Mary Worrall, Curator of Cultural Heritage

Affiliates who regularly assist in carrying out responsibilities for MTAP collections or activities:

Noel Allende-Goitia, Ph.D., Research Associate, MSUM
John Beck, Ph.D., Adjunct Curator and Co-coordinator, "Our Daily Work, Our Daily Lives" Program, Labor Education, MSUM
Frank Ettawegeshik, Coordinator, Native American Arts Initiative Project, MSUM
Isaac Kalumbu, Ph.D., Adjunct Curator, MSUM; Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, MSU
Peter Knupfer, Ph.D., Associate Director, MATRIX
Mark Kornbluh, Ph.D., Professor of History, Director, MATRIX
Barbara Kreuger, Research Associate, MSUM; Michigan Stained Glass Census
Diana N'Diaye, Ph.D., Folklife Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Deborah Smith Pollard, Ph.D., Associate Professor, UM, and Adjunct Curator, MSUM; Coordinator, "Lest We Forget: Detroit Gospel Legends" Project, MSUM and GPAC
Justine Richardson, MATRIX, Associate Researcher
Ray Silverman, Ph.D.; Adjunct Curator, MSUM: Professor, Art History
Laurie K. Sommers, Ph.D. Research Associate, MSUM; Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology at Valdosta State University
Steve Stier, Research Associate, MSUM; Michigan Barn Preservation Network
Yvonne Lockwood, Ph.D., Curator of Folklife Emeritus

And these MSU Museum faculty and staff member who provide regular support:
Teresa Goforth, Exhibts Manager
Jilda Anthony, Assistant to Director

In addition, MTAP is supported by interns, volunteers, students, and contracted