About the Michigan Traditional Arts Program
The Michigan Traditional Arts Program is produced in statewide partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to advance cross-cultural understanding and equity in a diverse society through the documentation, preservation, and presentation of traditional arts, folklife, and everyday culture in Michigan.
History of MTAPThe Michigan State University Museum first initiated ongoing research and presentation of Michigan traditional arts in 1975 with a statewide survey and 1976 exhibition of historical folk art. In 1977, the Michigan State University Museum joined with the Michigan Cooperative Extension Service to provide statewide educational programming and general public services in the area of Michigan's traditional cultural resources. In 1986, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs created a partnership - the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP) - with the Michigan State University Museum to strengthen the support of traditional arts and artists in the state. Among the major long-term MTAP programs are: the Great Lakes Folk Festival, the Michigan Heritage Awards, the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, the Michigan Quilt Project, and the Michigan Stained Glass Census. MTAP’s longstanding role in coordinating a statewide folklife festival began with the 1985 “Michigan: Whose Story?” festival. In 1987, MTAP collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution to present Michigan’s folk artists at the Festival of American Folklife. That same year, MTAP brought the Smithsonian’s Michigan program to Michigan with the launching of the Festival of Michigan Folklife. For the twelve years producing that festival, MTAP conducted field research to identify over 1200 folk artists for presentation at the festivals. In 1999, MTAP forged a new partnership with the National Council for the Traditional Arts in Washington D.C., and the City of East Lansing, to co-produce the National Folk Festival 1999-2001. Running from 2002-2017, MTAP continued the festival tradition with the launching of the Great Lakes Folk Festival held in downtown East Lansing. Working under the MTAP umbrella, MSU Museum staff, university and community associates, and contracted specialists have planned and implemented discovery research projects, exhibitions, digital humanities projects, media projects, education initiatives, curriculum materials, and artist services projects pertaining to the state’s traditional tangible and intangible cultural heritage. From 1978-the early 2010s, MTAP co-led FOLKPATTERNS, a statewide program to engage youth in investigating cultural traditions in their communities. MTAP staff directed or co-directed three digital humanities projects of special note: Michigan Stained Glass Census, Michigan Barn and Farmstead Survey, and the Michigan Quilt Project. The Michigan Quilt Project was a springboard for the development of the Quilt Index, an international repository of digital data on tens of thousands of quilts and quiltmakers. Since the mid-1980s MTAP staff have met regularly with state folk arts program staff around the U.S. and have played key roles in state and national arts policy development, evaluation studies, and professional development and training opportunities for both traditional artists and program administrators. In addition, MTAP staff members have also worked on initiatives pertaining to documenting and presenting traditional arts in other countries, particularly in China, South Africa, Japan, and Canada.
What is Folklife?Every group with a sense of its own identity is made up of individuals who share in what they traditionally believe, do, know, make, and say. Over time, these beliefs and activities become traditions. These traditions are often learned informally from members of a group and they connect group members to each other. Participating in traditions also connects people to their past, is a central part of life in the present, and provides a means to carry cultural knowledge into the future. These traditions are at the heart of all cultures–including our own–throughout the world.
-adapted from “What is Folklore,” American Folklore Society.Traditional arts are often deeply tied to a sense of place. The natural and cultural resources of a location are interconnected with the creation and meaning of traditional arts. Traditional arts help link people to place and community; they strengthen a sense of identity and uniqueness. Traditional knowledge and skills typically are learned by one individual teaching another. This teaching often takes place in informal settings such as family homes, religious centers, community centers, studios, and workplaces. Many masters of traditional arts are also excellent teachers. These artist/educators help ensure that skills and knowledge about the art and culture are learned and perpetuated by others.
-adapted from “Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of Traditional Arts,” an exhibition co-produced by the Michigan State University Museum and Documentary Arts, Inc.