Big News, Big Changes, Bigger Impact Annual Celebration Gives Rise to Regional Folklife Organization

PrintBig News, Big Changes, Bigger Impact

Annual Celebration Gives Rise to Regional Folklife Organization

The Board of Directors of Tucson Meet Yourself ­–the beloved 41 year old festival which shares the City’s namesake­– has created a new not-for-profit legal entity to serve as the festival’s parent and producing company.

The new organization has been named The Southwest Folklife Alliance to reflect the intention of serving a geographic area beyond Tucson. The organization will form partnerships with other cities and towns as well as cultural institutions throughout Arizona and the neighboring states of New Mexico, Texas and California.

“Tucson Meet Yourself” will remain active as the name of the three-day event exclusively. The festival in Tucson –a staging of folk and ethnic communities modeled after the Smithsonian Folklife Festival– will be the Southwest Folklife Alliance’s signature event, as other programs of the Alliance grow to similar stature over time. While the celebration of cultural diversity has been to date the main driver for the festival, the Alliance’s new programs will stress heritage as an engine of economic development and builder of social impact throughout one of the country’s most diverse, yet contested, cultural regions.

Among the programs currently in development by the Alliance are:
→ A program to award cash grants to masters of traditional arts and their apprentices;
→ A small business incubator for traditional cooks, farmers and food artisans;
→ Expert consultation services in changing demographics and diversity training in the workplace and other social institutions;
→ Instruction and training for “citizen folklorists” interested in mapping and documenting traditional cultural knowledge in their home communities.

The Southwest Folklife Alliance joins other regional centers in the Northwest, Mountain West, and South that have been established to discover, preserve, and present regional traditions and customs. With the creation of the Southwest Folklife Alliance, this region will now have dynamic year-round cultural programming that will deepen our understanding of diverse expressions of culture and traditions while fostering greater civic engagement and pride.

“It’s hard to believe that 41 years ago a small group of passionate people created something that has stood the test of time,” said Jim Griffith, founder of the Tucson Meet Yourself festival. “The Southwest Folklife Alliance will expand the festival’s legacy by focusing on ways in which cultural democracy and economic sustainability can interact creatively beyond a single event.”

University of Arizona and Southwest Folklife Alliance Join
Forces to Advance Folklife Initiatives

As “Tucson Meet Yourself” evolves from three-day event into the year-round movement spearheaded by the Southwest Folklife Alliance, the University of Arizona has stepped up its commitment to partner with the new organization.

“Communities are stronger when people understand and appreciate the traditions and stories of the people who live there,” said John Paul Jones, dean of the UA’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “For this reason, the College has always been a big supporter of Tucson Meet Yourself. Our expanded partnership with the Southwest Folklife Alliance only strengthens the UA’s position as the ‘go to’ institution in the Southwest to produce information and provide skills that enable business, government agencies, civic groups to better serve and engage our region’s increasingly diverse population.”

Since 1940, the University of Arizona has maintained a commitment to the study of folklife. Folklore courses are regularly part of the curriculum in the English and Anthropology Departments as well as in several other area studies programs. A Southwest Folklore Archive has been in existence at the University Library for decades. Since the late 1970s, the festival “Tucson Meet Yourself” has been directed by the designated University Folklorist (a UA Professor serving as executive-on-loan with the nonprofit producer). Jim Griffith occupied this role for most of the festival’s existence. Since his retirement, his legacy moved to The Southwest Center, a research unit on campus where Dr. Maribel Alvarez currently fills the role. Thousands of students and several dozen University staff and professors have played critical roles in the festival as performers, educators, board members, volunteers, food vendors, MCs, and donors. The Southwest Folklife Alliance under the directorship of Dr. Alvarez will continue to develop and deepen opportunities for educational enrichment and community engagement with the University of Arizona. It is with her vision and national leadership, supported by the strategic goals and values of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences that Tucson Meet Yourself has become the Southwest Folklife Alliance.

Grant Awards Make Possible Joint Staff Hires between University and Alliance

To jump start the planned UA/Alliance partnership, two outstanding individuals have been hired through shared funding.  A two-year grant of $75,000 from the Surdna Foundation, based in New York City, and a grant of $20,000 from a donor-designated fund at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA), helped accelerate the hiring. Different from festival staff, which are contracted solely by the nonprofit partner through seasonal contracts, the new two hires are full-time employees of the University and both will share University and Alliance duties towards a common goal. Additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was also part of the funding used for the positions.

Leia Maahs, former Grants and Community Cultural Development Manager at Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) has been named the Program Manager for Folklife Initiatives at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Leia comes to the Southwest Folklife Alliance and SBS with extensive history of working with local artist and community groups. For the past seven years, she has played a critical role in advancing TPAC’s community development initiatives, many of which drew on the cultural distinctiveness of the region as anchor for art and placemaking. Leia will assist UA Folklorist Dr. Alvarez to structure the administrative transition from festival to regional organization, managing all aspects of community engagement with the University and other partners.

Through a partnership with the University of Arizona English Department, the College of Social and Behavioral Science has hired Nicholas Hartmann as Folklorist in Residence for academic year 2014-15. Nicholas will teach two classes on folklore and folklife in Spring 2015. His other duties will include researching folklife traditions in the region, helping with the design and launch of the new Southwest Folklife Alliance programs and assisting in developing opportunities for student engagement in folklife research through SBS.
Nicholas holds a Master Degree in Folk Studies from Western Kentucky University at Bowling Green. He is currently finishing his dissertation for a Doctoral Degree in Folklore from Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada. His dissertation is a study of fathers of school-age children who work in offshore industries (fishing, oil and gas, military) and their performance of fatherhood through narrative, family tradition and play. For the past year he has worked as Coordinator of the Public Scholarship program at the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility at WKU. His interests include foodways, personal narrative, dance and occupational folklore.
“Nicholas and Leia are true finds; both are remarkable cultural workers who not only bring the skill sets we need to launch a new chapter in folklore studies and public programs at the UA but
also deeply attuned to the uniqueness of place and cultural heritage of the regions they work in,” said Dr. Alvarez.

Alvarez added, “The future looks brighter than ever for the legacy that Jim Griffith and many other dedicated folklorists and cultural advocates have forged in this part of the country over decades of consistent work on behalf of folk communities. The Tucson Meet Yourself Festival has been the community’s stage to celebrate and share its diverse heritages. It will continue to thrive and that is very exciting. We are also looking forward to creating through the Alliance more opportunities for people to learn and discover the rich and vibrant traditions of the place we call home.”

The Tucson Meet Yourself Festival will be held October 10-12, 2014 in downtown Tucson this year. A formal event celebrating the affiliation between Southwest Folklife Alliance and the University of Arizona is planned for September 2014.

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Visit the Tucson Meet Yourself website for information regarding current programs and festival content