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September 9, 2003

For More Information Contact:
Diane Gonzolas, Citizen Information Center, 441-7831
Deb Weber, Lincoln Arts Council, 434-2787

Well-known folklorist Roger Welsch to lead effort

Lincoln Mayor Coleen Seng and the Lincoln Arts Council (LAC) today announced a new project to identify and celebrate the folk art traditions of new Americans in the community. A $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will fund the New Americans Folk Art Project, which will be led by Nebraska’s eminent folklorist, Roger Welsch.

“We are very fortunate that increasing numbers of people from all over the world now call Lincoln home,” said Mayor Seng. “They brought with them the art, music, dances and stories of their homelands, much as our ancestors did when they settled in this country. This new project is a wonderful opportunity to learn about their art and in turn, learn more about them.”

Welsch defines folk art as “traditionally held, informally transmitted forms that belong not so much to the individual artist as to the community.” His work will involve surveying, cataloging and indexing the artists and building bridges enabling them to share their work with the community.

During the last two decades, Lincoln has become home to more than 30,000 Russians, Bosnians, Sudanese, Iraqis, Mexicans, Latin Americans and others, each bringing art forms unique to their cultures.

“New spices are added to our American stew and this project is an effort to identify those spices, encourage them, share them with the larger community and celebrate them,” says Welsch. “The final product will be increased exposure to the general public of the richness of the world’s arts as seen right here in our own Star City.”

“I believe that one of the most important activities the Lincoln Arts Council can undertake is connecting with refugees and immigrants to let them know that the art forms they have brought with them are valued here and deserve to be preserved,” said Deb Weber, LAC Executive Director. “We couldn’t have found a more capable, qualified or enthusiastic individual to head this project than Roger Welsch.”

“This is an official, community acknowledgment of our enthusiastic welcome for traditional art forms coming to our city from all over the world,” said Welsch. “Traditional culture – arts and crafts – are living processes that change, grow and move from one culture to another. For example, modern popular country music, a distinctly American musical form, has its roots in African music, and the blues, from the deep south, in English and Irish ballads.”

Welsch is a long-time Nebraskan and native of Lincoln, trained in folklore scholarship. He is a widely published author, performer and presenter of the folk arts. He spent most of his life teaching in the field of folklore with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Information Agency. He is perhaps best known for his 13-year position with CBS News Sunday Morning and his long tenure with Nebraska Educational Television.

Partners on the project include the Mayor’s Office, the Hispanic Community Center, the Lincoln Interfaith Council’s Faces of the Middle East and African Multicultural projects, the Lincoln Action Program, KZUM Community Radio Station, the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department, Aging Services, the Downtown Lincoln Association, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications and Lincoln Lodging Association. An advisory committee of representatives from partner organizations will help guide the project’s implementation. They will share resources, develop project events, exhibitions and performances and pursue project sustainability.

For further information about the Lincoln Folk Arts Project, contact Anne Pagel at the Lincoln Arts Council, (402) 570-1157 or (402)434-2787.

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