In November 2018, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts designated Erie Arts and Culture as the Folk & Traditional Arts Partner for Erie, Crawford, and Warren counties. The PCA’s Folk Art Partnership includes six other nonprofit organizations covering 33 counties, forming a supportive network. It is the job of each Folk Art Partner to identify traditional artists in their region, assist those artists in keeping their traditions vital, and create more community access to folk arts through presentations, performances, workshops, and other programs.
Kelly Armor, a folklorist and teaching artist, is Erie Arts & Culture’s Folk Art Coordinator. From 2003 - 2016 she led the PCA Folk Art Partnership when it was at the Erie Art Museum. She has worked with scores of people who practice traditional art, including fiddle, Bhutanese weaving, African drum, Hindu sacred dancer, and Korean watercolor. “Northwest Pennsylvania has a rich array of traditional artists. Some of them born here, some of them recently resettled refugees,” states Armor. Many of them are hidden in plain sight. This art was never meant for a proscenium stage or an art gallery. It was made as part of a community ritual, or to serve some important social context.” Armor initiated Old Songs New Opportunities, a nationally acclaimed program that trains former refugees to work in early education settings and to use their traditional songs on the job. “These children’s songs are a perfect example of folk art. They have been used for centuries to calm or focus children, to to teach them social skills and the community’s culture. It is great to be able to keep these songs going so Erie’s kids can benefit from them.
The PCA defines folk arts having characteristics of specific ethnic, religious, linguistic, occupational, or regional groups. These arts are shaped and shared within families, neighborhoods, and communities. They are passed down from one generation to another and learned through ongoing participation in community-based activities, and through observation, practice or apprenticeships with elders and masters rather than through classes, books or other means of institutional instruction.