Folklorist Summit: Tradition as Profession

Folklorist Summit: Tradition as Profession

Hosted by American Folklore Society and the American Folklife Center

Presented by FAI with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, this day-long in-person session will be by invitation only to folklorists and academics, as well as pre-approved artists and industry professionals whose work intersects directly with folklorist study.

What are Global Summits?

FAI’s Global Summits are extended sessions at the annual conference designed to convene academics and industry-specific peers to discuss in-depth and report out on the evolving processes, practices, and policies related to the rich ecology of folk music. Past summits were held for funders, archivists, ethnomusicologists, cultural equity advocates, and Indigenous community members.

What will happen during the Folklorist Summit?

The professionalization of traditional arts is sometimes called into question, but it remains important to validate. Within the academic discipline of folklore, there has been a tendency to define a “folk artist” as specifically not a professional.

This historical perspective can have the unintended effect of suggesting that traditional artists should not be able to make a living from their art, and can lead to inequity in payment for folk and traditional musicians. It also does not recognize the artistic frameworks upon which people actually operate as professionals within their tradition; while many traditional artists are amateurs, professional traditional artists are important within many communities.

Furthermore, institutions that adjudicate the traditional arts frequently employ a credentialing model that fails to recognize artists as experts in their traditions and to involve them in decision-making. For all these reasons, folklorists should support communities deciding what constitutes traditional art and what professional roles are appropriate. Where we can, we should advocate for traditional folk artists to be able to make a living doing their art and sharing their knowledge.

Questions about authenticity, equity, value, and payment continue to be points for discussion in the field of folk and traditional arts. Some of the questions this summit will address may include the following:

1. Who has or should have the authority to decide which traditions, agencies, and individuals receive validation and funding?
2. Whose voices should be heard when adjudicating authenticity, merit, and value in folk arts?
3. Who is credentialed as artists or as folklorists, and what does this mean?
4. What inequities lie within historic spaces of knowing and expertise? How have these inequities excluded viewpoints and expertise from the field? How can they be addressed?

We are in an important moment to think about these questions both within the discipline of folklore and within the FAI community.

Pre-registration and approval is required to attend this event. All attendees must be registered for the in-person FAI Conference.