About Us

Grayson Chesser, master decoy carver
Grayson Chesser, master decoy carver, from Jenkins Bridge, Virginia (photo by Pat Jarrett).

The Virginia Folklife Program is the state center for the documentation, presentation, support, and celebration of Virginia’s rich cultural heritage. Whether sung or told, hand-crafted or performed, Virginia’s rich folklife refers to those “arts of everyday life” that reflect a sense of traditional knowledge and connection to community. Virginia’s folkways are rich with traditions that have been rooted in the Commonwealth for centuries, as well as those that more recently have been carried here and nourished by Virginia’s diverse immigrant communities.

History

The Virginia Folklife Program was established in 1989 as part of Virginia Humanities, the state humanities council, with funding support from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts Folk Arts Program. The Virginia Folklore Society, one of the oldest state folklore societies in the country, was instrumental in the establishment of the Virginia Folklife Program. 

What We Do

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships ensure that cherished cultural traditions are passed along to future generations. Each year, the Virginia Folklife Program pairs experienced master artists with eager apprentices for one-on-one nine-month learning experiences in all forms of Virginia traditional, expressive culture. Begun in 2002, more than 120 master and apprentice teams–in art forms as wide ranging as decoy carving, fiddle making, boat building, country ham curing, African American gospel singing, Mexican folk dancing, just to name a few–help ensure that Virginia’s treasured folkways continue to receive new life and vibrancy, engage new learners, and reinvigorate master practitioners.

Education and Outreach

The Virginia Folklife Program presents hands-on workshops, residencies, and performances by master artists in public school across Virginia, engaging students of all ages in the unique traditions of our state and sharing the stories they represent. We develop classroom resources to help teachers educate their students about the diverse cultural traditions them.

Performances and Public Presentations

Live public performances and demonstrations produced by the Virginia Folklife Program provide opportunities for public expression, draw attention to lesser-known art forms, and create environments where Virginians can learn about traditional artists residing with the Commonwealth. The Virginia Folklife Program reaches thousands of people each year through high-quality live performances and demonstrations at festivals and concerts across the state.

Documentation and Fieldwork

The Virginia Folklife Program visits communities large and small across the Commonwealth, documenting diverse cultural traditions through audio recordings, photography, and videography. This cultural documentation allows for the sharing of cherished traditional folkways with the public now and for generations to come. Virginia Folklife documentary materials and field recordings are made to be widely accessible in high-quality, searchable formats though this website, our YouTube, SoundCloud, and Flickr channels, and on Facebook. We also produce professional recordings and documentary films.

Cultural Exchange

Cross-cultural sharing of folk traditions is one of the most powerful tools of cultural diplomacy. Within the Commonwealth, across the nation, and abroad, the Virginia Folklife Program brings Virginia artists together with practitioners from around the world. Exchanges between traditional artists build bridges between seemingly disparate communities and traditions, and help artists and audiences to better understand and articulate the important influences of other cultures on our own Virginia traditions.

Support the Virginia Folklife Program

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