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A Museum-Minded Guide to the 2014 American Folklore Society Meetings

Cross-posted from AFS News.

Folklorists with an interest in museums are feeling quite excited about the upcoming American Folklore Society annual meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 5-8, 2014). The home to many world-class museums, Santa Fe is always a favorite with museum lovers, whether they are enthusiastic avocational visitors or veteran museum workers. This year, Santa Fe’s wonderful museums compete for our attention with an AFS meeting program that is unusually broad and deep in its engagement with museums as rich sites for collaboration, education, and community empowerment as well as for ethnographic, historical, and comparative research. If your plans are not yet finalized, please consider joining us in Santa Fe.

For those with museum interests, there are too many wonderful panels and presentations to enumerate all of them here. Many material culture panels—covering everything from food ways to architecture—appear throughout the program and will certainly attract the attention of museum-minded folklorists. The same can be said for public folklore programming and other themes of perennial concern. Here I highlight a selection of promising events of likely interest to those eager to learn more about the intersection of folklore studies and museum practices. This account though is just a selection drawn from the larger program and I know that much wonderful work of museum-interest is not flagged here. The Santa Fe program will provide a near infinite number of options for all of us.

Before the meetings even officially open, an abundance of museum-relevant offerings on Wednesday will get us in the mood for a jam-packed program. While the rich set of tour choices have understandably attracted many in the museums crowd, some museum folklorists have understandably been drawn to the “Experiments in Exhibition Workshop” that has been organized by Carrie Hertz and Suzanne Seriff at the Museum of International Folk Art. This innovative hands-on gathering has been sponsored by the Museum of International Folk Art, the AFS Folklore and Museum Policy and Practice Working Group, the Folklore and Education Section, and Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts in Education.

The Experiments in Exhibition Workshop is only one of a number of special events connected to our hosts at the Museum of International Folk Art. Kicking off the meeting’s panel sessions on Thursday morning, is a double session on “Pottery of the US South” that will offer a diversity of viewpoints on a topic that is the focus of the museum’s special exhibition of the same name. Those attending the exhibition’s opening later on Thursday may wish to attend one or both of these companion panels [01-01, 02-01].

Also in the first time slot on Thursday is Dress, Culture, and Identity: Museum Collections and Outreach, which has been sponsored by the Folklore and Education Section [01-04]. For those with museum interests, difficult choices or shuttling between rooms will be a welcome challenge throughout the meetings.

Running alongside the second pottery panel in the second slot on Thursday is the first of a series of museum-focused panels organized by the Folklore and Museum Policy and Practice Working Group. Leading off the working group’s series is a forum in which group members will update the membership on its work and solicit questions, concerns, and contributions from the field in anticipation of a final working group white paper and a range of spin off publications—all of which will aim to strengthen understanding of, and opportunities in, museum-based folklore studies [02-04]. The series of panels organized by the working group all aim to facilitate the sharing of innovative case studies and hard won experience throughout, and beyond, the field. Please join the conversation.

After lunch on Thursday, a second working group event will be held—a diamond session on “Current Digital Projects in Ethnographic Museum Contexts” [03-04]. This panel runs concurrently with “Folk Art, Folk Craft I”, which also includes presentations of special relevance to those with museum interests [03-17].

A highpoint of the conference will happen on Thursday evening, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. This is when the “Open House on Museum Hill” will be held. All of the Museum of International Folk Art and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture galleries and gift shops will be open and attendees will have the unique opportunity of seeing a performance by the Cibecue Creek Apache Crown Dancers. Check your program for details on other musical and exhibition offerings, as well as shuttle information. There are many great choices lined up and we will also be able to indulge in diverse fare with food trucks providing local and international foods for purchase.

Among the many museum scholars attending AFS for the first time is Aaron Glass of the Bard Graduate Center. On Thursday evening, following the events on Museum Hill, Glass will be screening “In the Land of the Head Hunters: A Newly Restored Version of Edward S. Curtis’s 1914 Silent Film Made with the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) of British Columbia.” This special event should have wide appeal to all who have heard of Curtis’ famous work or who have interests in archives, Native American culture, community collaboration, or visual methods and productions.

Museum-focused panels begin again on Friday with “Movement Creates Museum: Activist Beginnings of Historic Sites of Conscience” [04-01], which runs concurrently with “Archives, Museums, Collections I” [04-08]. These two panels are followed by another museums working group event: “At the Crossroads of Museums and the Marketplace” [05-03].

After lunch on Friday, hard choices continue with “Archives, Museums, and Collections II” [06-03] running concurrently with another panel with much museum content—the diamond session “People and Things: Material Culture Research at the Crossroads” [06-05].

A further museums working group event kicks off Saturday morning: “At the Crossroads of Museums and Communities” [07-01]. This event is followed by “At the Crossroads of Folklore and Museum Education” [08-05], which has been sponsored by the Folklore and Education Section.

In the conference’s final time slot for presentations, museum-relevant papers appear in “The Crossroads Are Owned: Folklore Institutions and the Negotiation of Public and Personal Tradition” [09-07], which runs concurrently with the final event of the museums working group series. It is: “Museums and Intangible Heritage: Connecting the Tangible with the Intangible” [09-16] as well as a panel discussion grounded in the work of the Museum of International Folk Art’s Gallery of Conscience initiative: “Community Crossroads: Integrating Folk Art, Media, and Youth to Impact HIV/AIDS Advocacy” [09-03].

Among the special features of the Santa Fe meetings will be the presence of many first-time attendees who are museum colleagues from China and the United States. Their attendance follows from the work of the joint China Folklore Society-American Folklore Society project focused on folklore and intangible cultural heritage (ICH). The current, second phase of this Luce Foundation-funded effort is focused on museums and ICH policies in both countries. For those interested in learning more about the current “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice” project as well as the broader “China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project” can find details on the AFS website.

As suggested above, this year’s museums-rich program has also attracted first-time attendees and guests from neighboring fields sharing our museum interests, including cultural anthropology and Native American studies. I would like to encourage all AFS regulars to welcome and connect with these many new AFS meeting participants. As always, AFS will also attract many students. This year will provide them with an unusually rich opportunity to learn about museum-based folklore practice and to engage with colleagues, projects, institutions, and ideas in the wider museum field.

Thanks to all who have worked hard to assemble such a rich set of events and scholarly presentations for the Santa Fe meetings.

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