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2019 Election: Ellen McHale

Ellen McHale, Executive Director, New York Folklore 

Ellen McHale has pursued the research, documentation and public presentation of folklore and folklife for 38 years, including serving as the Executive Director of New York Folklore since 1999. She has been involved in every aspect of public sector documentation, presentation and advocacy. She is a Fulbright Scholar (Institute for Folklife Studies/Stockholm) and was awarded an Archie Green Fellowship for her documentation in the stables of thoroughbred racetracks. Besides her work at New York Folklore, she serves as an adjunct instructor at Utica College (6 years) and is an elected Town Board member for the rural town of Charleston, NY.

The American Folklore Society has been an important part of my professional life for the past thirty-five years and I have relied upon the annual meeting and JAF for the opportunities and scholarship that they provide. With the two meetings that I co-Chaired (Rochester and Buffalo), I helped craft diverse meetings that involved community members and artists alongside folklore professionals. I applaud the most recent commitment by the staff and board of AFS to diversify the membership and I support increased efforts to attract and support a younger and more culturally diverse membership. I believe that devising an ongoing strategy to forge and support an infrastructure for folklore professionals is key for creating a diverse professional organization.

As exposure to the field of folklore starts at the undergraduate level, AFS needs to continue to advocate for robust folklore programs in academia that will introduce undergraduate students to folklore. This advocacy is especially important at undergraduate institutions and community colleges. Concurrently however, the field also needs to advocate to elevate the status, opportunities, and salaries for folklorists, as efforts to achieve diversity will demand wages and salaries that are competitive. Too many in our field are contingent faculty or part-time public sector folklorists and AFS must continue to provide its leadership to support folklorists in a variety of full-time employment situations. Visibility for the field and expanded professional opportunities assist in creating and maintaining a culturally and demographically diverse membership of scholars and professionals who see folklore as a path to secure and substantive careers.

In this era of increased climate insecurity, folklorists can have much to say about the impact of a changing environment on traditional ways of being. The tools, theories, and methodology of folklore are ready to be utilized to draw attention to our increasingly changing world. I view this as an opportunity for the field to engage with scholars from the traditional STEM fields, and with those who are in policy positions. Issues of migration, displacement, and a changing sense of place are informed by folklore scholarship. Our field has had an important voice in times of social change. Today, in light of a changing climate and its effects on communities, folklorists can also help lead that discussion.

With AFS’s successful leadership transition from Tim Lloyd to Jessica Turner, the American Folklore Society has shown that it is a successful organization with professional management. Since 1999, I have directed a like-minded organization–New York Folklore -and have served on several non-profit boards of directors. As a member of its governing board, I believe I can bring my expertise in organizational governance and management to assist the American Folklore Society.

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