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Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice

Undertaken between 2013 and 2016 and co-led by C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Musuem) and Xie Mohua (Yunnan Nationalities Museum),  “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice” was a sub-project of the larger, still-ongoing “China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project” (2007-present) of the American Folklore Society and China Folklore Society.

Overview



The focus of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice” sub-project was the intersection of ethnographic museum practice and both folklore and intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Working under the auspices of the American Folklore Society and the China Folklore Society, six folklore studies-focused museums of ethnography partnered in this work, which included a pair of conferences (the 5th and 6th AFS/CFS forums) focused on increasing mutual understanding of current issues and sharing specific best practices relating to folklore, ICH, and museums of ethnography in both countries; professional development opportunities connecting the six museums and their staffs for purposes of greater mutual understanding and exchange of best practices; and joint work on an exhibition of Chinese patchwork and quilted textiles. This exhibition–Quilts of Southwest China–has traveled extensively in the US and China and was accompanied by a bilingual catalogue. The catalogue was co-edited by exhibition co-curators Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum) and Lijun Zhang (then on the staff of the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi, now on the faculty of George Mason University).

Project Team


The core project team for the 2013-2016 museums effort included leaders representing the six partner museums: Marsha Bol (then Director of the Museum of International Folk Art), Gao Cong (then Director of the Guizhou Nationalities Museum), Kurt Dewhurst (Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Director Emeritus of the Michigan State University Museum), Jason Baird Jackson (then Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Marsha MacDowell (Curator of Folk Arts at the Michigan State University Museum), Wang Wei (then Director of the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi, formerly the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities), and Xie Mohua (then Director of the Yunnan Nationalities Museum).

Key Project Gatherings

The entire project team met for the first time in Kunming, Yunnan, China in December 2013. This first gathering was hosted by the Yunnan Nationalities Museum and included travel to Dali and to Bai communities around Erhai Lake in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. A detailed account of the trip has been published in the newsletter of the Mathers Museums of World Cultures and is available online.

Many project participants, including a large Chinese delegation, participated in the November 2014 American Folklore Society meetings in Santa Fe. The AFS meetings were followed by the Fifth Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Bridging Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage in Ethnographic Museums and Heritage Sites, as well as professional development visits by four Chinese museum colleagues to East Lansing, Michigan (home to the the MSU Museum) and Bloomington, Indiana (home to the MMWC). Both conferences, along with professional development visits by project staff in Santa Fe were hosted by the Museum of International Folk Art. A copy of the conference program book is available here.

In December 2014, the Guizhou Nationalities Museum hosted a 2nd project team meeting. Held in Guiyang, this meeting focused on planning the Sixth Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage and furthering work on the Quilts of Southwest China exhibition. This trip also included visits to Miao and Dong communities in southeastern Guizhou.

In April 2015, the Guizhou Nationalities Museum hosted the Sixth Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage. At this time, staff from the three US partner museums also made professional development visits to the partner museums in Kunming and Nanning. A copy of the conference program book is available here. While in Guizhou, the project team also visited Miao and Bouyei communities in southwestern Guizhou.

Reports

Reports of the project have been published in Museum Anthropology Review and in the AFS Review.

C. Kurt Dewhurst and Timothy Lloyd. 2019. “Project Report: The American Folklore Society-China Folklore Society Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, 2013-2016.” Museum Anthropology Review 13(1): 59-68. https://doi.org/10.14434/mar.v13i1.25405

Timothy Lloyd. 2017. “The Inside Story of the AFS China-US Project.” AFS Review. https://www.afsnet.org/news/news.asp?id=349609

Financial Support

The lead sponsor for this project was the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional funds and support for this phase of the larger China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project were provided by the provincial nationalities museums in Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan, by other Chinese sources, by the three US partner museums, and by the following US-based organizations:

  • Arts and Humantities Council, Indiana University (MMWC)
  • Asian Cultural Council (AFS)
  • Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University (MSUM)
  • Aurifil (IQM)
  • College Arts and Humanities Institute, Indiana University (MMWC)
  • eQuilter.com (IQM)
  • E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation (MoIFA)
  • Friends of the International Quilt Museum (IQM)
  • Indiana University Press (AFS)
  • International Folk Art Foundation (MoIFA)
  • Moda (IQM)
  • Museum of International Folk Art Exhibitions Development Fund (MoIFA)
  • Museum of New Mexico Foundation (MoIFA)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (IQM)
  • Nebraska Arts Council (IQM)
  • Nebraska Cultural Endowment (IQM)
  • New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program, Office of the Vice President for Research, Indiana University (MMWC)
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Quilts of Southwest China edited by Marsha MacDowell and Lijun Zhang. The book is distributed in the United States by Indiana University Press.

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