Oregon recently procured a new home for a historic and extensive archive of folk art and literature, within the confines of the University, to the delight of students specializing in folklife studies.
Conceptualized as a partnership between museums, libraries, tribal organizations, state agencies, academic programs and local artists, the Oregon Folklife Network, which is the project name for this undertaking, credits itself as more than just a lengthy collection of research data.
The network’s coordinators hope that its relocation to the University, in conjunction with a recent $50,000 initial investment from the Oregon Cultural Trust, will help the new service organize public events and offer apprenticeship and scholarship programs.
In terms of its effect on academics, the University’s Folklore and Arts and Administration Programs have partnered with the network to offer networking and fieldwork opportunities to students interested in different disciplines involving folklife studies.
Doug Blandy, one of the network’s cofounders and the associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, was involved with the selection process for the OFN’s new location, and was happy to know that the OFN would be centered around student input and participation.
“By having the hub of the Oregon Folklife Network at the University of Oregon, students will be integral to the extensive network of arts and cultural organizations in Oregon that are committed to sustaining Oregon’s cultural heritage,” Blandy said in a University press release.
Created in the wake of the Oregon Folklife Program’s collapse last year, the network was envisioned in the Oregon Arts Commission’s 2009 charter “Plan for the Oregon Folklife Network” as a “new and sustainable system for providing folklife services in Oregon.”
From 1977 until its recession-fueled breakdown in 2009, the program served as Oregon’s statewide public folklore organization based at Lewis & Clark College and then at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.
Forged out of a concern for the future of public folklore studies, stakeholders involved with state arts and heritage agencies helped to facilitate a planning process to re-envision how Oregon studies and preserves its folklore.
Lisa Gilman, director of the University’s Folklore Program, said the University was selected to house the OFN because it wields sufficient resources to document the network’s broad catalogue of materials created by everyone from graffiti artists to basket weavers.
Another factor that made the University so attractive, Gilman noted, was the pool of interested students willing to contribute their time and effort to maintaining the database.
“We were selected because of the numerous resources available,” she said. “The Folklore Program trains students to be folklorists and has students with expertise that could contribute to the needs of the OFN … the UO already has the capability to manage folklore archival materials.”
Gilman also predicted that the structure of undergraduate courses dealing with folklife studies will also change as an effect of OFN’s presence on campus, which she thinks will be met with an optimistic student reception.
“We anticipate developing undergraduate courses through which undergraduate students will contribute to the documentation and programming of folklife in Oregon at the same time as they are learning about folklore and developing research skills,” Gilman said. “Given my conversations with undergraduates, these opportunities will be welcomed with enthusiasm.”
The OFN hired University folklore studies graduate student Ahavah Oblak last month to help with the network’s logistics. Though Oblak views the network as a valuable resource for folklore students, she said the network will serve more as a forum for researchers from outside the University community.
“There will be a lot of research potential … (and a) potential for students and the public to get involved,” Oblak said. “(But) it’s not just an academic U of O thing, it’s more of a grassroots, state-wide organization.”
The OFN’s inaugural event will be a symposium on folklore in the 21st Century held on Nov. 18 and 19. Nationally recognized folklorist and former director of the National Endowment for the Arts Bill Ivey will present a keynote lecture on the first day of the symposium at 7 p.m. at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
Oblak said that hosting OFN events are important for the program because they serve as ways for the community to participate and learn.
“We are hoping to get some feedback about what the network’s needs are and what people want to see,” Oblak said. “This symposium is the first step.”