Attend One of Our Public Programs
Working with numerous communities and individuals we present exciting interactive exhibitions for all types of audiences. Exhibitions and related programs focus on different aspects of folklore and folklife. They are created to meet the need to educate the public about the rich blend of ethnic and cultural backgrounds we experience in this region. We want to express cultural ideas as visual images and performances and to follow them through time and around the region. Some communities retain traditional concepts of their surroundings over a long time period; others have experienced significant cultural transformations due to economical, social or political changes. Some communities arrange themselves in organizations, church or club activities, making themselves more visible to the public eye; others are dispersed in small groups over the area and practice their traditional ways primarily at their homes with family members and friends. We work with everyone to present in a proper way the beauty and the wisdom of their traditional arts and cultures.We plan and design our exhibitions following discussions at the Down Jersey Folklife Advisory Board Meetings and in consultation with community representatives. Our strategies of creating exhibitions strive for an educational and aesthetic experience. To us, exhibition means the creation/recreation of memory, knowledge, and aesthetics; of symbols of family and community living; of symbols of a world outlook, and of the most important transitions in them. We provide both historical and contemporary perspectives but in different proportions, depending upon the chosen exhibition’s topic. When we focus an exhibition on a certain element of the folk culture, we want to present it in as broad a comparison as we can find (for example: “Easter Traditions in Down Jersey” represented by 14 ethnic versions; or Tales of the Jersey Devil presented by a large number of regional versions). At other times we focus on the historical aspect, illustrating how cultural elements are modified over time (for example: the Mummers Masks and Costumes Exhibit). When we showcase a specific group (ethnic, occupational or regional) we design the exhibit with the idea to present all major aspects of the community traditions and to trace them in different historical periods. (for example: “Native Americans Arts and Culture”, “Hanukkah Traditions”, “Estonian Display”). In all exhibitions our major concern is to present “the view from within”, i.e. the folk culture seen from the perspective of adherents and to share its meanings and forms with “outsiders”. We always have lots of handouts, audio and video documents, and slide shows prepared to pass on our message to the visitors.
In our mini-concert series, we feature one to three artists representing different regional, historical or ethnic styles in folk music and illustrating the genres and aesthetics of such music. In our “Ancient Instruments in Modern Time” concert series we provide our audience with a rich and comprehensive experience in musical events that present comparison of different world traditions. Our audience can not only listen to the music and compare the sound of both well-known and lesser-known instruments; they can also hear legends about their origins, learn about their usage in different family and community ceremonies, join musicians in a journey to very remote places in the world, or learn something new about the musical aesthetics of their neighbors.
We plan and implement a great number of workshops where folk artists not only perform for the audience, but also involve people in direct experience by teaching them music, songs, dance or crafts. We believe that the personal touch is more powerful and influential than the observation alone. “We the people” can better share the traditions of “the others” when cultural aesthetics of “the others” become part of “our” own active participation. That is why a major goal of the Folklife Center is to produce workshops where people can learn and enjoy by direct participation. Our cultural workshops present a specific community from various perspectives. These are usually structured into two parts: performance and teaching. An introductory part and display may be included. We have music and dance workshops; and we have craft workshops, which often are connected to our exhibitions or to other, larger programs.
Another major goal of our public programming is to present the complex nature of the folk rituals as structure, as human knowledge and experience, as a specific atmosphere, and as a function in various cultural contexts. The main focus is on the dynamics of the ritual symbol as expressed by the folk arts’ languages: word, music, dance, special objects and actions. We showcase both family and community rituals. A good example of this type of presentation is our annual June “wedding month” program. The basic meanings of the ritual symbol are repeated many times in different ritual forms. This repetition secures the miracle of ritual transformation and creates the inseparable whole of all artistic activities in the ritual event.
We participate in infrastructure projects with other regional folklife centers in New Jersey and with those in the Middle Atlantic region. See www.njfolklife.com. We also work with the New Jersey Folklore Society.