A Letter from Anna Lomax Wood

March 7, 2022 | by

Dear colleagues and friends—folklorists, ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, and fellow travelers, I’m very pleased to communicate that the Association for Cultural Equity will be seeking a new Executive Director. The organization and its programs have lots of room for growth, so we encourage applicants to apply for the position. We do new, experimental work. It is an exciting, challenging position, the staff is experienced and professional, and the board is engaged and committed. Our original board was equally so, in another sphere, being composed of poets and storytellers—Edmund (Ted) Carpenter, Lambros Comitas, Barbara L. Hampton, John Bishop—whose amusing stories and beguiling tales sometimes occluded the business of the day. Our current board is chaired by Barry Dornfeld, a folklorist, anthropologist and filmmaker, as well as a consummate organization man; ACE board members are Robert Baron, Barry Dornfeld, Jane Beck, Naomi Hawes Bishop, Patricia Shehan Campbel, Odysseus D. Chairetakis,Gideon D'Arcangelo, Amanda Dargan, Don Fleming, Barbara Hampton, David Katznelson, Michael Minsky, Forrestine Paulay; Daniel Sheehy, Anna L. Wood.; the advisory board members Jane Anderson, John Bishop, Karen Bradley, Katherine Chairetakis, Andy Kolovos, Christopher Mulé, Bill Pearson, Mu Qian, Rosita Sands, Patrick Savage, Edmund Wood, Philip Yampolsky, and Steve Zeitlin.

January 28 was my last board meeting as president and de facto executive director of ACE. After 26 years, it was a gut-wrenching moment, but a step long planned for, and I must say farewell—but not goodbye. The only way I can really do this is to recognize and thank from my heart and soul, the people who have shared the journey with me and made it possible to implement innovative policies and practices of a highly delicate and sensitive nature—and without whom there would be nothing to bequeath. I only wish I could hug you all and express my gratitude in person.

Certain things you can only achieve with a small independent organization that can turn on a dime. At ACE we have been able to try brand new initiatives and adopt novel perspectives and methods without muss or fuss. It has been my good fortune that many expert, dedicated, creative people have been willing to take these adventures with me. The late Jeffrey Alan Greenberg, attorney, philosopher, and cherished friend made it all possible and was with me from start to finish, as was my dear cousin Ellen Harold, a consummate thinker, researcher, and writer. Bill Nowlin, whose generous publication offer enabled me to restart the Archive, Robert Baron has been my mentor and has shared his genius and vast experience with me for more years than I care to say. A serendipitous meeting during a visit to the Archives by Martin Scorsese led to many years of like minded collaboration with Don Fleming, a luminary of garage punk, music producing—and archives. Jeff introduced me to Steve Rosenthal who did all of our digital transfers and restorations, and to David Katznelson, music philosopher, label executive and philanthropist, who worked with us to produce an unparalleled collection of Hatian recordings and now serves on ACE’s board. The amazing Francesca (Kiki) Smith-Archiapatti is an invaluable part of ACE. Two open, exploratory minds—Victor Grauer, co-creator of Cantometrics, and Forrestine Paulay, co-creator of Choreometrics—have shared ideas and kept me company for a long time. Thanks to Hunter College, CUNY, and the good offices of Paul LeClerc, Barbara L. Hampton, Joseph Murphy, Jennifer Raab and Herb Sturz, we have a physical archive and offices.

Over the years, I have learned two things that may be worth passing on:

What is being written today about the human condition is often rich, nuanced and sensitive, and can sometimes touch the sublime. But our focus tends to be narrow. We need an interdisciplinary and more disciplined approach to support our cherished critical ethnography. As anthropologists, folklorists, and ethnomusicologists, our horizons should encompass the discoveries of relevant cross-cultural research, social history, prehistory and archeology, human ecology, and world systems studies. To prepare our students well, and to communicate, exchange, and grow in the contemporary humanities and human sciences, the teaching and course offerings of, and funding for, our fields should include basic scientific method, introductory statistics, social anthropology survey methods, cross cultural research methods, network analysis, and evolutionary theory. We need to ask for, and ourselves produce, results that are comparable and verifiable. Moreover, if we are more cross-disciplinary, we will have input into and influence upon scientific studies of human behavior, instead of feeling that our knowledge has been overlooked.

Secondly, with regard to critical race theory, postcolonial theory, globalization and the like, I believe we want to be a little less prescriptive ourselves, and learn from the people who have actually lived racism, want, exclusion, the effects of colonialism, etc. When I first began working with immigrant communities as a public folklorist in the 1970s, I was told by my interlocutors over and over again that even though they were struggling with a host of other problems, cultural recognition and support mattered to them the most. Regardless of denomination, we are specialists in human culture with experience in and access to vast horizons of accumulated knowledge, documentation, and material culture given to us by the world’s peoples. I feel it is our first and urgent duty to connect such resources with the people from whom they came—people who have lost or are losing their languages, stories, songs and dances, whose core traditions, skills and expressive arts are behaviorally and orally transmitted, whose values, beliefs, expectations, approaches to child rearing and socialization, behavioral norms and etiquette, patterns of interaction and social organization, are lived, not codified and not necessarily articulated. Language preservationists and public folklorists—not least the American Folklife Center—have been working on this front for decades. All of us need to pitch in. Maybe we should make it an organized effort, or at least partly so—food for thought. For sure, the issues and solutions need to be defined, not by academics and foundations, but by the people most concerned.

All manner of people are thrilled and moved by the kind of work we do—when they find out about it—people at the grassroots more than anyone. Think about this. A collection of cultural documentation has been preserved, restored, digitized, and cataloged. It is ready to be used! But by whom?For the most part (the American Folklife Center is one notable exception), only diligent, card carrying scholars will find it, and with special permissions use it—but rarely the people whose traditions were recorded. ACE’s Lomax Digital Archives (L/DA) and the Global Jukebox, which are online multimedia archives of thousands of examples of primary cultural material, free to the public. But this basic preparation is only the first step. Only with focused effort and experimentation on our part, and only in community partnership, can these resources actually become serviceable to the people they represent. This is ACE’s current goal.

From 1996 to the 2000s, Jeff and I, with Matthew Barton, Gideon D’Arcangelo, Ellen Harold, David Katznelson, Andrew Kaye, Steve Rosethal, and later Nathan Salsburg, with designers Jay Sylvester and Barbara Bersche, variously, made over 115 CDs and box sets for Rounder Records, Harte Recordings, Museo del Pueblo de las Asturias, Dust to Digital, Tompkins Square, Mississippi Records and Drag City, the Irish Traditional Music Archive and Real-to-Reel Recordings. In 2000, Don Fleming joined us as director of licensing to lead the search for artists and their heirs, later to become executive director. Jorge Arévalo Mateus served a distinguished term as ED. Bertram Lyons and Nathan Salsburg came on to work with Don. Nathan has been with us for 21 years and has distinguished himself as a musician and producer, and as curator of the digital Lomax Archive. Bert became a leading media archivist, while Matt serves as Curator of Recorded Sound at the Library of Congress. Ellen Harold, my cousin and companion of many years, meticulously researched and wrote biographies of Alan Lomax’s friends and family. Judy Weiss coached us on fundraising and helped us secure many grants. Lori Waldo, Molly Sirignano, and Angelito Ballo kept us on the financial straight and narrow. Since joining us 15 years ago, Francesca Smith-Archiapatti (Kiki), now acting director, automated our bookkeeping, created the ACE website, developed the new digital archive of Lomax’s audiovisual documentation (L/DA), is a decisive voice in planning, and holds us to our budgets.

We were privileged to work with many specialists who annotated the recordings and curated series. Roger Abrahams, Gage Averill, Luis Bajén García, Mauro Balma, Margaret Bennett, Juan-Mari Beltran, Ken Bilby, Sergio Bonanzinga, Esperança Bonet Roig, Gian Paolo Borghi, Aintzane Camara, Robert Cantwell, Nicholas Carolan, Franco Castelli, Amy Catlin, John Cohen, Judith Cohen, Luis Costa, John Cowley, Dominique Cyrille, Luisa Del Giudice, Monique Desroches, Domenico Di Virgilio, Guy Droussart, Jacob D. Elder, Jaume Escandell, Winston Fleary, Manel Frau, Adriana Gandolfi, Julian Gerstin, Mario Gros Herrero, María Gutiérrez, Bess Lomax Hawes, Hamish Henderson, Donald R. Hill, Ken Hunt, Nazir Jairazbhoy, Peter Kennedy, Ronald Kephart, Rajna Klaser, Kip Lornell, John MacInnes, Tullia Magrini, Maguy Andral, Peter Manuel, Claudie Marcel-Dubois, Morton Marks, Isidor Mari, Josep Martí y Perez, Aaron McCullough, Lorna McDaniel, Jerrilyn McGregory, Ewan McVicar, Edward Neill, Paul Oliver, Ankica Petrović, Bruno Pianta, Goffredo Plastino, Speranţa Rǎdulescu, Robin Roberts, Dave Samuelson, Josemi Sánchez Velasco, Martin Scorsese, Steve Shapiro, John Szwed, Sandra Tarantino, Vito Teti, Francesc Torres i Peters, Alberto Turón Lanuza, Stephen Wade, and Maureen Warner Lewis.

Since it acquired the originals of Alan Lomax’s manuscripts and media in 2004, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has been our longest, most constant partner. Over several prior years, James Billington, then Librarian of Congress, saw that process through with me and Jeff. Peggy Bulger, former director of the AFC, and its current director, Elizabeth Peterson, made a place for us in the AFC “family”,and presented with us at conferences and repatriations, collaborated on digitization, restorations, publications, conferences, fundraising, and fellowships. Thank you, Peggy, Betsy, and Theadocia Austen, Jennifer Cutting, John Fenn III, Judith Gray, Nancy Groce, Stephanie A. Hall, Guha Shankar, Nikki Saylor, Guha Shankar, Michelle Stefani, Stephen Winick—and others I may not know. Thank you for your willing collaboration and help at any hour, for processing and putting online Alan Lomax’s papers and media with amazing speed and ingenuity. And, I am a fan of your own use and publications of this material.

Gideon D’Arcangelo, a world leader in digital design whose first job was with Alan, has from the beginning been my partner on the Global Jukebox. Richard Smith, Kiki’s father, extracted the Jukebox’s original data from ancient apple computers, restored it and did a flawless job of translating it into modern code. Jeff Feddersen designed the interface, and John Szinger took over as lead developer. Forrestine Paulay, Developer, Choreometrics; Michael Flory, Research Design & Data Analysis; Martin Szinger, Front-end & Back-end Software Development; Ray Cha: Wireframing; Kiki Smith-Archiapatti: Additional Web Design/Site Maintenance/DMCA Agent; Alona Weiss: UX/UI Graphic Design & Prototyping; Patricia S. Campbell, Amanda Dargan, Steve Zeitlin, and City Lore:: Education; Patrick Savage: Science Advisor; Karen Claman, Kathleen Rivera, Maisa Atayeva, Marco Fernando Guarino, Miriam El Hajli, Stella Silbert, Researchers; Jesse Rifkin, Don Fleming: Popular Song Sample; Miriam El Hajli: expanded Latin American sample; Academic Coordinator; Susan Wiesner: Choreometrics; Judith R. Cohen, Geoffrey Clarfield, Victor Grauer, Mark Slobin, Philip Yampolsky, Lamont Pearly, Sr., Kathleen Rivera: Journeys; Lilian Caruana: Culture Summaries; Howard Wuelfing: Public Relations; Nick Hasty: Database Software Development; Steve Rosenthal, Eric Gorman: Sound Engineering; Jeffrey A. Greenberg, Katherine E. Lewis: Legal, Agreements; Copyright; Bertram Lyons: Data Management Planning; Jacques Boudreau, Ray Dweck, Ariel Marx, Isabel Parkay; Nicholas Wen: Interns; Patricia Campbell, Todd Harvey, Bruno Nettl, Anthony Seeger, Michael Tenzer, Laurence Witzleben, Philip Yampolsky: Advisors, Music; Sinclair O’Gaga, Ann Biddle, Karen Kohn Bradley, Frederick Curry, Meriam Lobel, Onye Ozuzu, Miriam Philips, Allegra Fuller Snyder, Susan Wiesner: Advisors, Dance; Herbert Sturz, Jane Anderson, James Francis, Michael Naimark: At Large.

In its repatriation work, ACE has collaborated with numerous institutions: Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Berea College (University of Kentucky) Blues Archive (University of Mississippi) Carnegie Hall (New York, NY) Carriacou Sports and Well Being Foundation (Carriacou, Grenada) Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College (Chicago, IL) Centro Studi Alan Lomax (Palermo, Italy) City Lore (New York, NY) Coastal Carolina University's Joyner Institute for Gullah Culture CRNS/CREM (Center for Research in Ethnomusicology) (France) Crossroads Cultural Center (Clarksdale, Mississippi) D-PLACE (University of Toronto) Delta State University Emily J. Pointer Public Library (Como, Mississippi) International Library of African Music (ILAM) Irish Traditional Music Archive (Dublin, Ireland) Médiathèque Caraïbe (LAMECA) (Guadeloupe) Michigan State University Museo Etnomusicale di Montemarano (Montemarano, Italy) Muséu del Pueblu d'Asturies (Spain) Rock and Roll Forever Foundation (New York, NY) Smithsonian Folkways The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture & The Center for Black Music Research (New York, NY) University of Athens (Athens, Greece) University of the West Indies (Trinidad).

I warmly salute my colleagues and friends in the American Folklore Society, and especially in the Mediterranean Section, the Society for Ethnomusicology and ICTM. And those who influenced me most and inspired me to go on, including my mother, two fathers, my formidable aunts, and Agnes Dyer. I’ll be around and will see you soon.

-Anna Lomax Wood
March 2022