Tennessee Folklife Institute

Launching in spring 2020

Tennessee’s folk cultures are deeply rooted, yet dynamic and changing daily. Folklife practices—including family, ethnic, community and regional traditions—are found in every town, large and small city, and county (really, around every corner) in the state. 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.

Led by the Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program in coordination with Humanities Tennessee, the Tennessee Folklife Institute is a new training workshop designed to encourage and increase the documentation, preservation and presentation of these many folklife traditions. Over the course of five daylong sessions spread over three months, participants will take part in an immersive and rigorous workshop to develop skills necessary to cultivate diverse cultural traditions.

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. 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 about and 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. Instructors will include a cross-generational collective of folklorists and community scholars from across the state. Participants will also learn from enriching folklife demonstrations and field trips.

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. Tennessee Folklife Program staff members will available to consult on project ideas prior to submission of the application.

Watch this page for upcoming program opportunities and application details.