American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
I graduated in 1975. (I started with the second class to register as graduate students in the new MA program in Folk Studies.)
Where do you currently work?
I was the director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress from 1999-2011. The Center is home to the largest ethnographic archive in the nation (perhaps the world), and it exists as both a division of the Library of Congress and a national service organization for the field. We have a staff of 24 at the Center, with another 20 staff members assigned to the Veterans History Project. As director, I served as a division chief for LOC Library Services and I also directed the Center under the guidance of a 25 member Board of Trustees. The Center is charged with "preserving and presenting American folklife" (Public Law 94-201). We do this by collecting, preserving and making accessible multi-format folklife, ethnomusicology and oral history collections of national and international significance, as well as producing media programs, publications, symposia, concerts, lectures, exhibits and other public programs (on-site and online). In addition, I serve as a consultant and delegate to international cultural policy entities such as WIPO, UNESCO and OAS.
Tell me about your career.
When I graduated from WKU, I worked briefly at Berea College's Appalachian Museum and then was tapped to be the first "state folk arts coordinator" for Florida. At the time (1976) there were only six state folklorists and the field of public folklore was very new. It was a marvelous experience. I had a one year grant from NEA that developed into a permanent position, and then an entire Florida Folklife Program was created. My one year in Florida turned into a twelve year stay. During this time I took a one year sabbatical and completed my course work for a PhD in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania (1985-86) and I finally graduated in 1992 (it's hard to write a dissertation while working fulltime!). In 1989 I was selected to be the first "regional" folklorist, and my family and I moved to Atlanta where I began work for the Southern Arts Federation. This was a terrific way to work in collaboration with the nine state folklorists in the South and it is marvelous that a WKU graduate, Teresa Hollingsworth, is now doing a terrific job continuing and expanding on that position. In 1999 I became the director of the American Folklife Center (taking over from founding director, Alan Jabbour) and I have been here ever since. This is the most rewarding position that I can imagine and I continue to learn new things every day, especially from the AFC/VHP staff -- a terrific cadre of professional folklorists, ethnomusicologists, archivists and oral historians. I have also been on the Board of Directors for the National Council for the Traditional Arts since 2000.
How has folklore prepared you?
My career has been entirely in public folklore, and I guess my colleagues and I (from the mid 1970s) would be considered "pioneers" in this field. WKU offered the first MA degree that was geared toward work beyond the academy and this was a key to my career path and how I developed as a folklorist. My work as a student assistant in the WKU Folklore Archive proved to be invaluable and my field work experiences informed all of the survey work that I eventually did in Florida and beyond. The WKU curriculum and emphasis on real-world applications of folkloristics is a model for preparing students for public folklore work.
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