Celebrating 40 years with the American Folklife Center in Washington, DC

On May 18th the Library of Congress held a wonderful celebration marking the 40th Anniversary of the American Folklife Center in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building. The entire Association for Cultural Equity staff was honored to be invited, and traveled down the Washington, D.C. to attend. Prior to the party, ACE was treated to an in-depth tour of the Alan Lomax Collection at the Library of Congress. Meticulously organized and curated by Todd Harvey, the multi-chamber collection spans the entirety of Lomax’s career, and contains field notes, correspondence, personal belongings, as well as a massive collection of tapes, films, and awards, and the antiquated punch card coding system for his analyses of the regional profiles of song – the very cards which contain the original data for the soon-to-be released Global Jukebox.

Alan Lomax’s grandson Odysseus Chairetakis found the tour to be especially touching. Reflecting upon a box of family yearbooks now stored in the collection, he said, “The opportunity to view my grandfather’s material at the LoC was an extraordinary experience for me. I am so glad to see it is in good hands and that it is being used for active research. I am very appreciative of the staff at the AFC and thank them for their help in the preservation of Alan’s legacy.”

One step into the stacks of Choreometrics films brought the continuation of the project, and its hurdles, to light. Tin upon tin of film and magnetic tape yet to be transferred to digital format sat upon shelves, uncertain of their fate. “The resources, unfortunately for the GJB project, have yet to meet the demands of task ahead,” said ACE Research Associate Kathleen Rivera. “It’s a shame, because these films hold a rich array of cultural legacies and dances from all over the planet — some completely lost to time and enculturation — and the only thing keeping the information from the public is funding. With some luck and hard work, I hope this will change.”

Following this enlightening tour, and after a brief delay caused by a kitchen fire, the party in the magnificent Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building got underway. In attendance were past and current Library of Congress and American Folklife Center staff and trustees, members of partner organizations like Dust to Digital and StoryCorps, and friends, family, and supporters of the American Folklife Center. After a lovely cocktail hour of meetings and reunions, David Mao, Acting Librarian of Congress, gave opening remarks and introduced a very special performance of Native American Hoop dancing by Nakota LaRance, 2015 and 2016 Champion of the World Championship of Hoop Dance at the Heard Museum. With great skill and five green hoops, LaRance represented and embodied forms and forces of nature, including the Eagle, the Butterfly, the Earth, and the Eternal Ladder.

After this breathtaking performance we heard from Kurt Dewhurst, Chair of the AFC Board of Trustees, Betsy Peterson, Director of the AFC, and Dave Isay, President and founder of StoryCorps. These speakers expounded on the past, present, and future of the American Folklife Center and its various groundbreaking projects, from the very first wax-cylinder recordings of Native American songs up to the myriad opportunities for collection and preservation made possible by the ubiquity of recording technologies and new platforms for dissemination.

Throughout the speeches the Association for Cultural Equity was recognized repeatedly — for the role of John and Alan Lomax’s early recordings in the formation and legacy of the AFC, for ACE’s community outreach and repatriation projects, for our long-standing dedication to cultural advocacy and partnership with the AFC and LoC, and for the ongoing efforts in getting our collections and related learning systems online and out to the public.

The Association for Cultural Equity greatly appreciates and supports the continued efforts and generosity of the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center and all their staff and associates. We had such a wonderful time and we look forward to celebrating more achievements together in the future.

Originally posted: May 24, 2016