Kentucky Folklife Program to make Western Kentucky University its new home
August 6, 2012: Press Release
Western Kentucky University is pleased to announce that the Kentucky Folklife Program has moved to the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology in Potter College of Arts and Letters after 20 years as a successful interagency program of the Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Arts Council.
"We are very excited about becoming the new home of the Kentucky Folklife Program," says Michael Ann Williams, head of the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology. "In many ways this is a perfect fit because of the natural alignment of the missions of our department and the KFP. Among the many benefits of this move, the Folklife Program will provide increased opportunities for our students to gain first-hand experience working with individuals and communities across the state to document and present their cultural traditions."
For over 20 years the Kentucky Folklife Program, directed by folklorist Bob Gates, has been dedicated to the mission of identifying, documenting, and preserving the Commonwealth's diverse cultural traditions. In October 2011, Gates was awarded the Governor's Ambassador Award for Professional Achievement in recognition of over two decades of work building the program. The Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Arts Council will continue as partners in support of the Kentucky Folklife Program. KHS will provide support for the program during the transitional period and KAC will continue its support of folk arts through the successful Community Scholars and Apprenticeship programs.
WKU is the ideal location for the KFP because of the decades long history of folklife studies within the university. For over four decades the Folk Studies Program (which combined with the Anthropology program to become the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology in 2004) has been one of the premiere folklore MA programs in the United States. Over this time the Folk Studies Program has placed special emphasis on preparing students for folklore work in the public sphere, including arenas such as museums, state and non-profit folklife agencies, folklore in education, and historic preservation. A major strength of the program lies in the emphasis on community engagement through fieldwork, including the process of hands-on engagement with Kentuckians across the Commonwealth to document, present, preserve and interpret the many traditions and expressive aspects of culture that make up our region's rich and diverse character. The University and the state will also benefit from the coming together of the state's largest folklife archives, as the archives of the Kentucky Folklife Program joins the existing WKU Folklife Archives housed at the Kentucky Building.
Directing this new program will be Brent Björkman, whose connections to Kentucky are strong. After completing his graduate work in Folk Studies at Western Kentucky University in 1998, Björkman worked as a Folklife Specialist with the Kentucky Folklife Program in Frankfort for five years before going on to a position as the first Associate Director of the American Folklore Society. In 2007 he accepted a position as Executive Director of the Vermont Folklife Center where he has worked until his return to Kentucky to assume this new role.
"I am honored to be back in the Commonwealth and excited to bring my diverse experience as a pubic folklorist to this next chapter in the life of the Kentucky Folklife Program," said Björkman. "As a graduate of the Folk Studies program at WKU I know the caliber of the faculty and students who make this a nationally recognized program. I look forward to reconnecting with colleagues and friends around the state as we plan for the future of this strong folklife program."
"A thoughtful reconceptualization of this program is paramount to moving forward and furthering the good work both entities have accomplished over the years" added Björkman. "There is certainly a need to stay focused on practical folklife and traditional arts projects currently in production at the same time that we continue to understand the evolving needs of local constituents throughout Kentucky who have a crucial stake in documenting the intimate folk traditions of their regions. With this new vantage point at WKU the KFP will also begin exploring exciting and innovative partnership opportunities with other universities across the nation involved in hosting folklife programs."