VOL. 12 NO. 3
The Blue Moon is published bi-monthly by the Kentucky Arts
Council, a state agency in the Commerce Cabinet. Please send comments, questions
and information to the Blue Moon, Kentucky Arts Council, Old Capitol Annex,
300 West Broadway, Frankfort, KY 40601-1980 or call 502-564-3757, toll free
Every community shares living traditions, arts, and knowledge that help define an individual's sense of belonging within that group. Whether they share a region, an occupation, ethnicity, religion, or family, their identity is expressed largely through living folk culture, or folklife. Folk traditions may be generations old or part of newly formed groups and communities. New traditions emerge over time, while older ones change and adapt. One such living tradition exists in the southeastern Kentucky town of Carcassonne. Since 1967, the Carcassonne Community Center has hosted monthly square dances. Traveling up a winding mountain road to the Center, visitors are welcome to experience the sights and sounds of the monthly square dance and even join in the dancing.
Simply hearing the band alone is enough to make a Carcassonne square dance an unforgettable arts experience. Regularly providing music for the dance is legendary clawhammer-style banjoist Lee Sexton. Lee is joined by multi-instrumentalist Ray Slone and guitarist Sean Stamper. Their sounds are enough to get the roomful of locals and visitors out of their chairs an onto the dance floor. Traditional artistic expression then fills the Community Center, when music and dance are conducted by the most essential artist at a square dance: the caller.
Master square dance caller Charlie Whitaker has called dances at Carcassonne for years. He has performed his calling at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as well as the Kentucky Folklife Festival. Two years ago, when teaching dance classes at Cowan Creek Music School, he discovered Erin Cokonougher, a teenage student with not only a gift for dancing, but for calling as well.
Erin recalls her first sessions with Charlie as her dance teacher: "At the end of a week, I was calling the dances while he was calling them. During the final program he asked if I'd like to call one, and I did. Over time, we became friends, and I call him 'Grandpa Charlie' now."
Through a 2005 Kentucky Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant, Erin now spends significant time learning to call with Charlie. The two meet regularly to practice and document Erin's progress. The grant enables her to move toward becoming a master square dance caller herself, thus securing the endurance of this important regional tradition.
Meanwhile, Erin assists Charlie with dance calling at Carcassonne and other venues, leading sets such as the Louisville Special, the Cumberland Square Eight, the Texas Star, and the Virginia Reel. Talking with Erin, one gets an immediate sense of the meaning, identity, and fun she finds in this art form: "Sometimes I'll call it and I'll forget I'm calling it. I don't even have to think about it; the words just come."
Co-written with Gabrielle Beasley, Kentucky Community Scholar
Two of the Kentucky festivals that have successfully included folklife interpretation in their events are The Mountain Mushroom Festival (left) and the Discovery Festival (right).
More and more, festival planners are exploring ways to develop interpretation, presentation, and educational experiences at their events. The Kentucky Festivals Cultural Heritage Improvement Project is a grant funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Arts Kentucky is the grant applicant with the following partners: Appalachian Heritage Highways, the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program, and the Kentucky Folklife Program. The result is a growing network and website, http://ky-festivals.org, that will enhance their economic impact and overall excellence among local events. The program incorporates a Peer Advisory Network program and support for Community Scholars training.
The grant defines a cultural heritage festival as an event that presents activities related to a community's sense of identity or distinctiveness. Heritage festivals often incorporate one or more of these elements:
Partners in this project developed a set of "Gateway Questions" to help festivals identify the focus and goals of their cultural heritage festival. The first step is to develop a purpose and mission statement for the festival. Organizers consider these five topics:
Kentucky Folklife Program staff visited some of these festivals to assist with planning, presentation, and assessment. Also, the Folklife Program hosts the VIP (Very Important Presenter) program, which provides a behind-the-scenes tour of the Kentucky Folklife Festival.
Other opportunities for participating festivals exist throughout the year. Arts Kentucky held a workshop in Berea in January for festivals in the grant and other festival organizations. Staff from the Kentucky Arts Council, Kentucky Craft Marketing Program, Kentucky Folklife Program and Kentucky Historical Society shared ideas and resources with the group. Several festivals shared their success stories and used the opportunity to network. Another workshop in April hosted by the Kentucky Historical Society focused on festivals exploring ideas for history components.
Visit http://ky-festivals.org for more information.
The Kentucky Folklife Program has begun another session of Community Scholars training, this time in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This free, six-session workshop began Saturday, April 30 and continues May 14, May 28, June 11, June 25, and July 9. The Community Scholars Training Program is designed for anyone who wants to learn more about the history and culture of their family and their community. Community Scholars collect and preserve local history, identify and document community traditions, and present these traditions to the public. Participants will learn the basic skills needed to help their communities explore and showcase local talent, folk traditions and history.
Past participants representing history and cultural organizations, tourism, festivals, and educational programs have used these skills to establish community partnerships, obtain grant funding, and better present local traditions to the public.
For more information or to find out how to register for future sessions, contact Sarah Milligan at 877-444-7876 ext. 4434 or email Sarah.Milligan@ky.gov. The Community Scholars Program is a partnership between the Kentucky Folklife Program and Western Kentucky University's Folk Studies Graduate Department and is sponsored by the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Arts Council.