Why Folk Arts

What Are Folk Arts?

Folklore means something different to everyone—as it should. While there are many definitions of what folklore is, we focus on what it does: folklore connects people and creates community, which provides a people-centered means to stand up against powerful institutions.

Folk arts are rooted in community traditions and in collective experiences. While individuals create folklore (stories, songs, or traditions), these arts endure because they represent the experiences of many people. When we share stories at the end of the day, recall a proverb that gets to the heart of a situation, or eat traditional foods at holidays, we are using our own folk arts.

Calling these arts “folk” is a way of naming what is collective, community-based, or a peoples’ tradition. It is a way of distinguishing arts that represent more than an individual point of view. The term is also used because, in this country, the creative expressions of ordinary people are not always seen as art, or as a significant tradition. Notions of “high” art generally marginalize the majority of the world’s cultural and artistic traditions as they focus on the art produced for consumption by the elite. “Folk” art then serves as a way of making equal room for the creativity and expressions of all people.

At the Philadelphia Folklore Project, we view folk arts as resourceful creativity, informally learned and shared. As such, folklore and folk art is something that members of a group can always turn to, because, by nature, it exists outside of powerful institutions.