Traditional Arts Indiana to create traveling show with National Endowment for the Arts grant

Post by IU Communications colleague George Vlahakis

In two years, the state of Indiana will celebrate its bicentennial. Prior to its statehood in 1816, incoming settlers encountered its indigenous peoples, including the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

The Pokagon band lived according to seven “grandfather’s teachings,” which were well accepted among the Great Lakes tribes and much of Indian Country in general. Among those teachings was the word, “Bwakawen,” which means “wisdom, using good judgment and attitude, we have the ability to teach others what we have learned.”

Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Traditional Arts Indiana — the official statewide folk arts program — a $20,000 grant to create a traveling exhibition which does just that.

Jon Kay

Jon Kay is the director of Traditional Arts Indiana.

“Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation” will feature folk artists from various cultural communities across Indiana, such as African-American quilters, Italian stone carvers, Mennonite basket weavers and Native America beadworkers. Performances and demonstrations will complement the exhibition at selected locations.

Traditional Arts Indiana is based in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington. With additional support from the Indiana Arts Commission, it has worked to expand public awareness of Indiana’s traditional practices and connect back to its communities.

Often heritage is viewed simply as something in the past. Jon Kay, Traditional Arts Indiana’s director since 2004, said that such legacies and traditions are only useful if they have significance today.

The exhibition and programs will explore the work of contemporary folk artists, whose crafts represent various threads within our state’s historical narrative.

“It’s a connection to deep roots that also are useful today and have beauty today,” said Kay, also a professor of practice in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and a consulting curator at IU’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures. “It would be really easy to focus on just the history of craft — and that’s been done several times before — but I like finding ways to bridge those two worlds and that’s probably what NEA liked about it.”

On the road

Unlike other exhibitions that often reside at museums for months, “Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation” will go out to the people and be set up for a few days at events such as the Hoosier Outdoor Experience put on by the Department of Natural Resources in Indianapolis.

Here are some images. of 1. Maxine Stovall and Kathy Muhammad doing a bed turing at the Indiana State Fair. 2. Casey Winningham doing gravestone lettering at the Hoosier Outdoor Experience. 3. Larry Haycraft and his son Samuel making hoop nets at the Hoosier Outdoor Experience.  These were the simple one's for me to grab if you want something different, I can try to revisit it again tomorrow. Thanks again,

Larry Haycraft and his son Samuel make hoop nets at the Hoosier Outdoor Experience.

The exhibition is expected to travel across Indiana during 2016 to state parks, libraries and festivals. In addition to displays, it will feature artisans demonstrating how traditional arts have a contemporary context. It also will reflect the state’s diversity.

“We will try to take down as many of the barriers as possible. We look for places where people already are gathered,” Kay said. “We will transform the traveling exhibit into a festival at each of our installation sites … It will be a live diorama of folk arts for the state.”

Among those expected to participate in the project is David Martin, a Potawatomi Indian from South Bend and a beadwork artist who participated in this summer’s Living Earth Festival in Washington, D.C., presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“Through looking at the beadwork of Potawatomi artist David Martin, we can reflect on the cultural traditions and aesthetic sensibilities that remain essential to members of the Pokagon Band living in Northwestern Indiana,” Kay said.

“He learned to bead from his mother and grandmother and his family has been in the South Bend area since before Indiana became a state,” he added. “It’s a long-standing, deep-rooted community tradition … He’s continuing this tradition but he’s also this creative and dynamic and innovative artist. It’s not just about doing these ‘old timey’ things, but it’s the fact that these people have found contemporary uses for traditional knowledge.”

Awards and acclaim

In 2013, Traditional Arts Indiana was one of six recipients of the Governor’s Arts Awards (along with director Sidney Pollack and singer-songwriter John Hiatt). That same year, Kay received the prestigious Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Maxine Stovall and Kathy Muhammad do a bed turning at the Indiana State Fair.

Many of those who were associated with IU’s acclaimed exhibit at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., were associated with Traditional Arts Indiana.

It also has been instrumental in the practical training of numerous student folklorists and ethnomusicologists, including IU alumni who are now at the Smithsonian, the Philadelphia Folklore Project, the Brooklyn Arts Council and the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, Tenn.

“We’re kind of an incubator for future folklorists and future museum and arts workers around the country,” Kay said. “We’re trying to be the training ground for the next generation of public folklorists.”

“Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation” will provide valuable knowledge to them as well as the next generation of Hoosiers.

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