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AFS Review: Notes

Sustaining the Field: The Public Programs Section in Action at AFS 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
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by Guha Shankar (American Folklife Center, Library of Congress)

As the largest section (in terms of members) the Public Programs Section (PPS) of AFS will again be prominent at the 2013 Meeting in Providence with a wide-ranging slate of sponsored presentations/paper sessions and public gatherings, all of which articulate with the meeting’s theme of "Cultural Sustainability.” More about the sponsored sessions below, but I (and PPS co-convener, Brent Bjorkman) want to begin this virtual tour of Section activities by calling attention to three important public events which are a great way to attach names to faces both for newcomers, especially students and emerging professionals, and veterans.

On Friday, October 18, the Business meeting will take place from 6:30 – 7:30 PM, followed by the section’s Mixer for Students and Young Professionals, from 7:30 – 8:30 PM, in Narragansett C. If past meetings provide a clue, this year’s gathering will be sure to provide robust and thoughtful debate and dialogue about the challenges that colleagues in the public sector and institutions of higher education are facing along with a consideration of initiatives that section working groups are undertaking over the coming year to advance the cause of the section and AFS. The Business meeting is also the occasion during which space for participation and service on these committees opens up as chairs and members step down following the end of their terms. At the business meeting we will shine the light on members’ activities and achievements with the presentation of reports from national federal agencies, particularly the NEA, and recognition of section prize-winners such as travel awards that are given in support of exemplary student papers. These award-winning students will also present their papers in sessions during the meeting, which we hope will be well-attended and supported (04-09, 04-13, 10-08). The Mixer provides first-timers, indeed all who attend, the opportunity to meet up with peers and mentors in an informal setting and begin to establish long-standing relationships that will sustain them throughout their career.

Another important occasion, which reaches well beyond the Section to engage all folklorists is the "Idea Fair” (01-01). It is a open-discussion forum during which participants, facilitators and attendees, will engage each other on such issues as forging partnerships in folklore and education, the evolving career landscape for the next generation of public folklorists, and develop initiatives for collaborations between folklorists and needs-based organizations, along with a number of other topics. The session is the first one "out of the chute” at the meetings, that is, it will inaugurate the launch of the meetings on Wednesday morning, and it is as good a place as any for new-comers to become acquainted with PPS members and other colleagues.

With regard to the organized sessions sponsored by PPS, most engage the educational and pedagogical dimensions of folklore scholarship and practice, both domestically and abroad. One session (03-06) examines ways to imbue the educational system with place-based pedagogical principles and folklife standards and practices – social justice, tolerance, dignity, respect, voice, and agency – thus sustaining the system and those who enter it. Another session (05-08) presents several case studies in order to illustrate how folklorists, whether in the academy or in community-based settings, impart to students of all stripes core folkloristic concepts in order to support community ethnographic work. In a similar vein, "hybrid folklorist(s)” analyze their experiences in teaching at public universities while maintaining their practice as public folklorists. The session 11-07, "Birds of a Feather: Public Folklorists Teaching in Universities” may provide a kinder counter-discourse (if such is still needed!) to the contumely that accompanies the long-standing public-academic folklore debate.

Two sessions explore training and teaching methods that are employed in place-based, community-centered public folklore courses in US and foreign university settings. The American Folklife Center’s Cultural Documentation Field School, an intensive training program, has been deployed at several universities across the United States for over fifteen years and has recently made its debut in Canada. Faculty members and students at institutions that have established the Field School experiences in the session entitled, "Sustainable Models: Case Studies and Perspectives on Field Schools” (08-07). Perspectives on public folklore work and knowledge production in the University of Iceland is the focus of the session, "Public Folklore, Pedagogy, and Production: An International Case Study” (04-09).

Three sessions explore the intersection of public culture, cultural policy, and "cultural heritage” discourse as they are manifested in the activities of national and international institutions whose mandate involves the protection and promotion of national cultural traditions. The emergence of "critical heritage studies” (06-03) is the focus of one of the sessions, while the consequences of the attention paid to the "living treasures” of the United States, the annual National Heritage Awards Fellows, is the focus of the second (04-01). The latter session is particularly noteworthy since it features the august presence of several Fellows from the New England region. The third session (02-05) has special resonance for our meeting place and the local hosts, since it involves a film and discussion of a collaborative field survey project conducted by national and local cultural agencies in Rhode Island in late 1979. The session, "Vanishing Orchards and the Rhode Island Folklife Project” is sure to amplify the conference theme and sub-themes, by providing a historical perspective and time depth on a unique folklore documentation initiative.

Alright! Newcomers, look for me at the Mixer and I’ll stand you one drink (caveat: you have to mention that you read this piece all the way through…and I’ll stop buying when I run out of cash!)

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