NEA Director of Folk and Traditional Arts Barry Bergey Retires
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Washington, DC—After 29 years at the National Endowment for the
Arts serving the folk and traditional arts field, Barry Bergey is
retiring from the NEA on Tuesday, November 25, 2014. Bergey has been
Director of the Folk and Traditional Arts program since
2000 following 15 years as an NEA specialist.
NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, "I would like to thank Barry for his 29 years of service with the NEA. With
his gentle guidance and passionate advocacy,
Barry has worked tirelessly to preserve this country’s cultural
traditions, ensuring that future generations will grow up aware of and
inspired by the beauty and meaning of their heritage."
Dan Sheehy, former NEA director of folk and
traditional arts and director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and
Cultural Heritage, said, "Barry Bergey’s deep and intimate knowledge of
the folk and traditional arts field nationwide,
his even-keeled and thoughtful stewardship of National Endowment for
the Arts resources, and his gentle, approachable demeanor have made him
an impactful leader of our American traditions. Always mindful of his
own New Haven, Missouri, roots in the heart of
Mark Twain’s America, he brought a particularly American brand of
humor, compassion, and vision to his more than four decades of service
to our national heritage.
Julia Olin, executive director of the National
Council for the Traditional Arts, which manages the NEA's National
Heritage Fellowships events, said, "Barry is a beloved figure in
the field of folk and traditional arts. His
thoughtful and patient leadership has been informed by an ardent,
unflagging commitment to, and respect for, the carriers of American
vernacular culture. An eloquent spokesperson for the value of grassroots
cultural expressions, Barry’s wise stewardship, leavened
with characteristic kindness, subtlety, humor, and Midwestern modesty,
has been a touchstone, and will be deeply missed.”
Bergey joined the NEA in 1985 as a senior arts specialist after having served as the state folk arts coordinator in Missouri.
In 2001, he became
the Director of Folk and Traditional Arts at the NEA. In addition to
overseeing the NEA's grantmaking in this area, Bergey also manages the
National Heritage Fellowships—the nation's highest honor for artists
working in the folk and traditional arts—and
provides ongoing counsel to the US Department of State on international cultural policy issues.
"It has been a great privilege and pleasure to serve the folk and
traditional artists and their communities through my work at the
National Endowment for the Arts," said Barry Bergey. "In 1975, I, along
with friends, applied to the NEA for a little bit of funding
to record traditional musicians in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks.
Thanks to the $4,500 grant that we received and the encouragement that
went with it, we were able to release an album of traditional music
Old But I'm Awfully Tough. That experience changed my life. I'm
hopeful that, as I transition into retirement, the title we chose for
that recording proves to be at least somewhat prophetic."
Over the course of his career, Bergey has served as a fieldworker,
festival organizer, radio producer, curator, and arts administrator. His
writing has included a chapter on music and public policy for the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music.
he served as a consultant to the Center for US-China Arts Exchange
for their Joint Plan on Yunnan National Cultures Project. His
involvement in international arts policy issues also includes serving on
the US delegation for the UNESCO Intergovernmental
Meetings of Experts to Draft a Convention for the Safeguarding of
Intangible Cultural Heritage, and acting as head of the US delegation
to the first meeting of the Inter-American Committee on Culture of the
Organization of American States (OAS) in 2003. In
2005, Bergey was a member of the US delegation to UNESCO involved in
drafting a proposed Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. In 2014 he served as one of only three US
delegates at the biannual OAS meeting of member cultural ministers in Haiti.
To watch a video in which Bergey talks about his past and gives his farewell, click here.