Jon Lohman, Virginia State Folklorist from 2001 to 2020.
Published September 24, 2020
After nearly two incredible decades, I have chosen to move on from my position of Director of the Virginia Folklife Program. It has been an amazing journey, and I simply don’t have the words to express my deepest gratitude to all of the incredible people I have gotten to know, love, and work with along the way – the brilliant artists, tradition bearers, cultural advocates, colleagues and community partners. As I write this post, I am filled with a seemingly endless flood of memories as varied and diverse as the Commonwealth itself, and I have been so deeply blessed to have had experiences and connect with incredible folks, both living and passed on, whom I could have never imagined encountering in this life. I have sat at the edge of my seat mesmerized in the home of Bob Cage, master tobacco auctioneer, only to find myself being unexpectedly called upon to run an auction of homemade cakes at a weekly community old time jam in Fries. I’ve often lost myself in the brilliant parades of revelers in spectacular handmade Caribbean Carnival suits or literally hundreds of Bolivian dance groups in the streets of Arlington. I have been moved to tears by the gentle Sephardic ballads of Flory Jagoda and lifted to my feet by the soul shaking gospel of Chesapeake’s own Paschall Brothers or the indomitable Ingramettes. I have time and time again marveled at hands that craft extraordinary creations out of ordinary things, forever enriching and imbuing not just their own lives but those of their own communities, and ultimately all of us.
The turning of this chapter is by no means a goodbye. I plan to continue and expand upon this work by establishing the Center for Cultural Vibrancy, an organization committed to supporting and energizing the living cultural traditions that bind together communities, and to increase opportunities for meaningful cultural exchange both locally and abroad. I look forward to partnering with the many organizations and individuals who share in this mission across the nation, including my beloved Virginia Folklife Program, in the years ahead. Even in our nation’s most troubled times, I remain convinced by the enduring power of the traditional arts and the myriad expressions of folklife to allow us all to better understand, empathize, appreciate, celebrate and connect deeply with one another.
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This announcement also brings the exciting news of Pat Jarrett’s new role as Interim Director of the Virginia Folklife Program. For nearly a decade, Pat has transformed the impact and reach of the Virginia Folklife Program through his excellent work as our Digital Media Specialist, making him uniquely suited to deftly guide the program through the uncharted waters and profound challenges of the global pandemic. Along with the support of his remarkable colleagues at Virginia Humanities, the Virginia Folklife Program is in very good keeping in Pat’s hands, and will no doubt continue to expand and deepen its impact on the people of the Commonwealth.
I will forever be deeply grateful to Virginia Humanities for affording me the opportunity to engage in work that so closely aligns with my own passions and sense of purpose. My work has led me down many a highway and crooked road alike, from the mountains of Appalachia to the shores of the Chesapeake, allowing me to experience and deeply engage with the incredibly rich and diverse cultures teeming from both rural and urban centers along the way. I have always asserted that Virginia is a folklorist’s dream, and it has been an honor to serve as your State Folklorist for all these years.
May you all stay well and safe, and I’m looking forward to continuing our journey together.