Dana Everts-Boehm, our Folklife Program Assistant, is retiring this month after ten years at the Tennessee Arts Commission. Dana’s work here has been outstanding and inspiring. Her tireless efforts have greatly expanded and diversified the reach of our organization, especially into Latino and other immigrant communities. Dana has been a model of integrity and a stalwart advocate for our state’s underserved artists and art forms. She leaves the Folklife Program an extraordinarily legacy and a rock solid foundation on which to continue to build. Before she leaves, we asked Dana to share some photos from her time and some reflections on these past ten years. Click the questions below to read Dana’s thoughts.
What are the projects you’ve worked on most closely at the Tennessee Arts Commission?
One of my major efforts throughout my time here has been the Latino/Immigrant Initiative. This has essentially been to conduct fieldwork to identify and document Latino and Immigrant folk artists, events, venues, organizations, and key community organizers; to assist Latino and Immigrant organizations in acquiring eligibility to apply for TAC grants; and to offer said organizations technical assistance on developing fundable projects and on the grant application process . I have also overseen Commission Initiatives funding local folklorists such as Liza Blair in Chattanooga and community scholars such as Coral Getino and Rafael Casco in Knoxville (see: Latino Traditional Arts in East Tennessee), to interview and document Latino tradition bearers in their areas of the state. These efforts have resulted in: a significant increase of TAC funded arts project support grants and Commission Initiatives that highlight Latino and Immigrant folk arts; an increase in TAC gallery exhibitions featuring Latino and Immigrant artists; an increase of a Latino and Immigrant presence at TAC conferences and on TAC grant review panels; and a database of over 200 Latino and Immigrant folk artists and organizations. Needless to say this is still just the tip of the iceberg and an enormous amount of undiscovered art forms, artists, events, venues and community organizers have not yet been identified and brought into the fold.
From 2009 to 2013 Roby and I worked together on Tennessee Lives and Legacies, a four year long project which included a book, a touring exhibit across the entire state, and a teacher’s guide. Roby essentially wrote the book with some minimal assistance from me, while I organized and oversaw the touring exhibit and wrote the teacher’s guide. Many of the artists featured in the book and exhibit performed and demonstrated at the receptions held at many of the 13 venues where the show was displayed.
From 2009 to 2017 I curated or co-curated 10 exhibits in the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery, seven of which featured the work of Latino and/or Immigrant artists.
In 2016 I worked with Bradley Hanson to initiative Tennessee’s first Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, which funded eight master/apprentice teams in FY17 and culminated in an exhibition in the TAC gallery with an opening featuring performances and demonstrations by the participating teams.
How has Tennessee’s Folklife Program changed and developed?
Since I arrived in 2007, we catalogued the Folklife Archives and Library and donated significant portions of it to State Library and Archives, where portions of it are now available to the public. Our social media presence on the website and Facebook is greatly enhanced, thanks initially to Roby and more recently to Bradley and Suzanne Lynch. As mentioned above, there’s been a significant Increase of Latino & immigrant applicants and grantees in APS & RAPS and, largely thanks to Roby’s and Bradley’s fieldwork, of rural applicants in RAPS – close to 40% of which are Folklife applicants. There has also been an increase of Latino, African American and Anglo American rural folk artists’ work shown in the TAC gallery. Mexican needleworker Celia Garduño of Chattanooga, initially interviewed and documented by Liza Blair in a TAC funded Commission Initiative, was the first Latino to get a Governor’s Arts Award in the category of Folklife Heritage in 2017. Tennessee now has a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, as of FY17.
You’ve previously worked in New Mexico, Missouri, and Colorado. What makes Tennessee folklife distinct in your experience over the past decade?
This is the first time I’ve worked entirely within a state arts council. In Colorado I worked in a local arts council, the Rio Grande Arts Center; in New Mexico I worked at the Museum of International Folk Art and only part-time at the New Mexico Arts Division; in Missouri I worked with the Cultural Heritage Center and then the Missouri Folk Arts Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The sheer volume of grant applications in Tennessee’s Folklife Program is something I never encountered in my previous public folklore jobs. This is largely because the Tennessee Folklife Program emphasizes fostering infrastructure development through operating grants and project grants far more than New Mexico or Missouri, at the time I worked there. In New Mexico I was the state’s very first Folk Arts Coordinator, so I was busy establishing the Apprenticeship Program and finding ways to work with their Arts Education program; we had just started to offer one or two Folklife project grants when I left. In Missouri I directed one of the country’s largest and most established Folk Arts Apprenticeship Programs, and again it was only towards the end of my time there that we started to offer a handful of project grants and branch out into other areas.
In Colorado, New Mexico, and Tennessee, I have worked a lot with Latino folk artists and organizations. Tennessee’s Latino artists and art forms are, for the most part, recent arrivals from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the Caribbean, and South America. As such they are incredibly diverse and in many cases, I was encountering these amazing artistic expressions for the first time. So I had to do a lot of research to learn about and try to understand these traditions. Colorado and New Mexico’s Latino artists and art forms have been, for the most part, rooted in those areas for many centuries, and are well established at arts institutions such as museums, arts centers and galleries. In Tennessee, much of the Latino and Immigrant creative world exists in a parallel universe to established arts centers. So it was both exciting and challenging to discover, identify, document, and encourage these artists and groups (not always successfully) to interface with the Tennessee Arts Commission.
With its three divisions, Tennessee is a challenging state to cover. You often feel like you are working in three states instead of one. Also, the sheer wealth of its more rooted folklife forms – old time music and dance, bluegrass, quilting, white oak basketmaking, African American gospel and blues – is overwhelming at times; one feels as if one has struck the Mother Lode of American folklife.
The presence of top notch, knowledgable folklorists in the state who have done exemplary fieldwork & programming is a great boon here – individuals such as Bobby Fulcher, Brent Cantrell, Roby Cogswell (now retired from TAC) and (formerly) Charles Wolfe, as well as dedicated community scholars such as Linda Caldwell, Shawn Pitts, Liza Blair, and Latino and Immigrant community organizers such as Coral Getino, Alysa Medina, Mayra Yu Morales, Catrina Guttery, and Palestinian embroiderer Samira Jubran.
You’ve done 110 site visits to folklife events across the state. What are some of your favorite moments from this fieldwork?
This is a tough question to answer, as all of my site visits have been rewarding and amazing on some level. The following do, however, have a special place in my heart:
The first festival I documented in early 2009, Festival de la Comunidad Hispana at the Coleman Community Center on Nolensville Road, was a thrilling event. Organized by El Protector, a Hispanic wing of the Metro Police Department, this festival featured three great groups on stage – Justicia Norteña, El Grupo Folklórico de Mexico, and Billy Ramirez’ Kacique.
I learned a great deal on a two day fieldwork trip in 2009 to Chattanooga, during which I met with local folklorist Liza Blair. She introduced me to Eda Rodriguez (Salvadoran pupusas chef), Celia Garduño (needleworker from Michoacan, Mexico) and Micaela Pascual (Guatemalan Mayan weaver who spoke no English and only limited Spanish.)
I met and interviewed quilter Mildred Carathers, over 90 years of age, at her home for TN Lives & Legacies book & exhibit in 2009. She held us all spellbound with her accounts of the Great Dust Storm during her childhood in Texas, and the over 100 quilts she has made during her lifetime.
Attending various annual Hickman County annual quilt shows curated by Ruth Ann Carathers in Centerville was an opportunity to view a model quilt show/quilt book ongoing project first hand.
Meeting and interviewing Kuna mola maker Flor Martinez from Clarksville about her Kuna heritage, hometown in Panama, and mola making was a fascinating glimpse into a Panamanian indigenous art form, with plenty of Kuna history and politics thrown in by Flor’s husband.
Meeting Mexican folk artist/painter/muralist José (Pepe) Vera González at Cheekwood’s Day of the Dead in 2010 was a pivotal moment for me. The many follow-up site visits and interviews culminated in an article I wrote about him for the Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin. My favorite moment was attending an intimate gathering at his home in Smyrna on November 2, in honor of Day of the Dead, with friends and neighbors. He had decorated his house inside and out with pathways made of pumpkin and moss, paintings of dancing skeletons, candles, and a magnificent home altar that dominated the living room. I was very honored to attend, it was a solemn and magical occasion.
Meeting Samira Jubran, organizer of the Germantown International Festival and a gifted Palestinian embroiderer, was another pivotal moment. I interviewed her and Aida Ismail from Memphis about their embroidery, and I ended up working with them on the Palestinian embroidery exhibit here in the TAC gallery in 2012.
Another highlight was getting to know several of the amazing Latino folk artists and arts organizers in Memphis: members of Danza Azteca Quetzalcoatl and Las Palomas Mariachi; Colombian singer Marcela Pinilla (who later moved to Nashville), Catrina Guttery, Cazateatro, and others, and their coalition organization, Centro Cultural Latino de Memphis. It was a joy doing fieldwork to document such CCLM’s events including Day of the Dead, Tamale Fest, their Anniversary celebration, and folk dramas by Cazateatro.
It was also a joy visiting and documenting Tennessee’s only rural Latino folklife festival, Cumberland Hispanic Festival, in Crossville; meeting and working with its organizer, Alysa Medina, and seeing the incredible development of this festival over the last several years.
I still remember walking into Clorinda Chavez Galdos’ modest home in Powell, Tennessee, and seeing her astonishingly beautiful Peruvian “Escuela Cusqueña” paintings everywhere. It was like walking into a cave of miracles. It was a delight to work with Clorinda on her TAC gallery exhibit of her paintings in 2014.
A definite highlight was attending the First Annual Cherokee Heritage Festival at Red Clay State Park and seeing a Cherokee stickball match. All the players were running barefoot, capturing each other and trying to trap a tiny ball that we couldn’t see (but somehow the announcer always knew where it was) between two netted sticks, which struck me as mission impossible.
Documenting and researching Parsons’ Tennessee’s amazing Toby Show in 2015 and 2016 was a revelation. Stepping into the lively tent, being greeted by “Toby,” hearing the tremendous guffaws from the packed crowd at the vaudevillian melodrama, was an experience akin to stepping back into Depression era rural America.
I was fortunate to attend Memphis’ bilingual theatre group, Cazateatro’s, two great folk drama performances in 2016 in Memphis: Leyendas de Mexico (in honor of Day of the Dead, performed with Danza Azteca Quetzalcoatl) and La Pastorela: Si Lucifer fuera Mujer (traditional Mexican Christmas play).
Documenting Ofelia Vazquez’ Mision ConArte events at Global Mall, Antioch, is another highlight. These events typically featuring “Trio ConArte,” a trio huasteco from the Gulf coast of Mexico (the only one I know of in the state), a baile folklórico, and, on Day of the Dead in 2016, numerous community and “mom and pop” store ofrendas (altars honoring the dead).
All of the site visits to my four Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program teams have been both memorable and instructive: Sue Williams and Brenda Kucharski, white oak basketmakers in Morrison; Sally Wells and Madison Dean, Choctaw beadworkers in Smyrna; Puerto Rican conguero Billy Ramirez and his two apprentices Rachel Rodriguez and Kata Rhe Crutcher in Murfreesboro; and Kofi Mawuko and Demarland Dean from Chattanooga, Ghanaian drumming.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Again, this is hard to separate out and nail down, but here we go:
Working with Roby Cogswell on Traditions: TN Lives and Legacies project – the book, teacher’s guide, and 3 year long exhibition tour across the state, with gallery receptions featuring folk artist performances and demonstrations;
Working with Ruth Ann Carathers, Mildred Carather’s daughter-in-law, on the Carathers Family Quilts exhibition;
My Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin article on Pepe Vera;
The Palestinian Embroidery exhibition. “Al-Tatreez”;
My Latino & Immigrant Initiative fieldwork, resulting in an increase in Latino & immigrant grant applications, TAC funded projects, and TAC gallery exhibitions featuring these artists;
Working with Professor Helene Simonett of Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies to bring Yeu Matchuc, an indigenous Mayo dance and music group from Sinaloa, Mexico that performs the deer dance, for a week long series of exhibitions and performances in Nashville;
Clorinda Chávez Galdós Bell’s interview and exhibition. More artwork was sold at her exhibition than all of the TAC exhibitions during my time here combined; and, thanks to its success, she has been invited to exhibit at various galleries all over Middle and East Tennessee;
Introducing Mariachi Olímpico, who gave a stunning performance at “Collective Impact,” TAC’s 2016 statewide arts conference held in Murfreesboro;
Mexican needleworker Celia Garduño becoming the first Latino to receive the Governor’s Arts Award (in the category of Folklife Heritage) in 2017;
Working with Bradley Hanson to initiate Tennessee’s first Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, and having a very successful first year with eight master and apprentice teams;
The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program exhibition and exhibition reception.
I’d like to add that it has been a great experience working with Roby Cogswell and Bradley Hanson. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the chance to work closely with these two exemplary folklorists, to learn from them, to laugh and conspire with them, and to build Tennessee’s Folklife Program with them.