Tennessee Folklife Institute

Application Deadline: Application for 2023 currently closed.

Tennessee’s folk cultures are deeply rooted, yet dynamic and changing daily. Folklife practices are found in every town, large and small city, and county (really, around every corner) in the state. Folklife is lived, experienced, and enacted (not reenacted) in the present, through transmission and performance. Whether it is traditional music, dance, storytelling, craft, trade skills, foodways, games, clothing or hairstyling, or other expressions of community and identity, our various folk customs constitute a rich cultural heritage for Tennessee. Some traditions are widespread and vibrant; others are rare and endangered. Some are centuries old; others are new and emerging. These diverse practices make us who we are, and make our state what it is and can be.

The Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program, in partnership with Humanities Tennessee, is launching the Tennessee Folklife Institute, a new immersive training workshop designed to encourage and increase the documentation, preservation, and presentation of our state’s folklife traditions. Over the course of five daylong sessions spread over three months, participants will develop skills necessary to cultivate Tennessee’s diverse cultural traditions. Our pilot workshop will focus on West Tennessee. Workshop sessions will be held at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, Tennessee, in spring of 2023

Today and everyday, individuals and groups practice shared traditions and culture—what we call folklife. Broadly defined, folklife includes the arts, expressive practices, skills, bodies of knowledge, and ways of living that are passed down in cultural communities that share family, ethnic, tribal, regional, occupational, or religious identity. While some traditions are very old, folklife is not the same as “history” and it is not simply of the past. Folklife, no matter what its origin or depth in time, means living culture and active traditions in present communities. Folklife is typically transmitted and learned orally, by imitation and through observation, in informal domestic and community settings. Those who study and who work to promote and preserve such traditions employ intensive fieldwork methods as the primary means for gaining knowledge and creating documentation.

Tennessee Folklife Institute participants will learn how to conduct folklife fieldwork, including one-on-one interviewing, as well as audio, video, and photographic documentation. Session topics will also include archival and online research methods; exhibition, stage, and digital presentation design; project management and resource availability; among other important skills and topics.

A multi-generational team of experienced folklorists and cultural leaders from across the state will lead workshop sessions. Participants will also learn from enriching folklife demonstrations and field trips. The Tennessee Folklife Institute is designed to appeal to a wide variety of individuals that have an interest in community development and documentation, including members of cultural organizations, arts administrators, museum professionals, local historians, librarians, and archivists. For participants at all levels, the Institute will enhance skills in cultural documentation and project management. Journalists, photographers, filmmakers, podcasters, and artists would also be able to hone their fieldwork skills.

Admission to the Institute will be limited and based on staff review. Applicants are required to submit a proposal for a specific folklife project that they will develop over the course of the sessions. Possible projects could be anything from a photo exhibit documenting West Tennessee’s country blues community to a festival celebrating the traditions of Tipton County. Participants could create an audio documentary on Hatchie River folklife or a long form article about a local traditional artist, to name a few examples. While projects that deal primarily with community life in the past are important, we ask that all participants include in their projects elements that document and address these topics as they exist and matter for their communities in the present. As examples of some of Tennessee’s finest folklife traditions and traditional artists, read about our Traditional Arts Apprentice Program and Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award recipients.

We invite anyone interested in documenting, presenting, or researching the folklife of their community to apply to the Tennessee Folklife Institute. Through this program, we hope to cultivate a larger, more active network of folklife culture workers and advocates in Tennessee, as well as to support the production of new folklife-based public projects, including exhibitions, articles, festivals, workshops, and other performances. At the conclusion of the workshop series, participants will receive an official certificate of completion.

To apply, click here.