This exhibition considers how struggles for justice, equity and freedom depend on traditions passed on and developed within communities and out of collective experience. The folk arts of social change are vehicles for challenging oppression, transmitting unofficial history, and for passing on and preserving knowledge that spans generations. This project is about how we choose to act, about how we learn and transmit ethics and values, and about how community-based arts help make this learning and teaching possible.
Many Philadelphians have fought for liberty and justice, truly for all, and have used compelling traditions of grassroots art-making in their struggles. Despite official silence, active repression, and commercial appropriation, these home-made traditions of art and politics endure.
Folk arts are seldom seen as progressive or political, and artifacts of political expression are rarely seen as belonging to a tradition of art-making. When we take a closer look, the statements that these objects make can seem surprising, and remind us that a complete sense of history, arts and politics remains hidden from us. The objects gathered here have been part of many different and continuing struggles for justice, equity and freedom in the last five decades. Whether little or widely known, these various struggles depend on traditions passed on and developed within communities and out of collective experience.
The hand-made objects and carefully saved memorabilia displayed here carry important stories: of naming, of renewal and remembrance, of taking risks. Some objects recall defining moments of courage. Others represent powerful visions of peace and freedom, or times when the weak outwitted the powerful. Such common themes come out of the shared experiences of people (whether they call themselves activists or not) across movements, decades and miles. In the often dangerous places in which these arts originated, in exhibition galleries, and here on the web, the folk arts of social change are vehicles for transmitting unofficial history, for passing on and preserving knowledge that spans generations.
This project is about how we choose to act, about how we learn and transmit ethics and values, and about how community-based arts help make this learning and teaching possible. Folklore inhabits the boundary between the individual and the collective, and while we attempt to describe here some collective patterns, inevitably there will be many individuals whose shoes, artifacts, stories and experiences are not yet included. We invite you to “talk back,” to share with us your own stories, experiences, and reflections, and to help build a collective picture that can truly pass on the hard-won wisdoms that come from struggles for a better society.
The original “Folk Arts of Social Change” exhibition was installed at the Samuel S.Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, September 9 – October 24, 1999, and it contained more than 400 artifacts. Included here are exhibit panels from all major sections, as well as a mere handful—less than a dozen—stories that serve as our exhibition labels and a sampling of photos of the installation. You will miss the sound of peoples’ voices telling their own stories, the video clippings of demonstrations, and the chance to literally add your own voice to our exhibition on the “chant wall.” We encourage and invite your comments, and your stories
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS / CREDIT
Curator: Teresa Jaynes. Assistant curator: Holly Taya Shere. Curatorial assistance: Regan Buker, Cheryl Durgans. Research and editorial assistance: Elizabeth Sayre. Exhibition design: Kim Tieger. Exhibition fabrication: Charles Adams. Installation assistance: Warren Angle, Grisha Zeitlin, Jennifer Groch. Sound production: Steve Rowland. Video production: Sharon Mullally. Script editors: Jennifer Britton, Debora Kodish. Project interns: Aviva Arad, Michael Egnal, Kirha Morris-McMullen, Karman Mak, and Lauren Morgan. Project director: Debora Kodish. Project advisors: David Acosta, Christie Balka, Lois Fernandez, Thora Jacobson, Janet Kaplan, Beverly Robinson, Maisha Sullivan, Deborah Wei, Bill Westerman.
Additional help from Jim Abrams, Jenny Cox, Miriam Crawford, Miguel Diaz-Barriga, Alyse Bernstein, Lai Har Cheung, Nancy Cox, Bob Eskind, Mike Finley, Stacey Frettinger, Patrice Gammon, Peter González, Michelle Jackson, Nora Lichtash, Dorothy Noyes, Mary Petty, Gee Piner, Sam Schrager, Taller Puertorriqueño, University City Arts League, Paul Uyehara, Sally Van de Water, Dora Viacava, Pauline Wong, and Mary Yee. Thanks to Ann Downey, Judith Emprechtinger, Rachel Wales and Susan Bing of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts and to Kari Ytterhus for removal and restoration of the Crawford’s dining room. We remember with gratitude the late Gerald Davis for his spirit, example and encouragement.
The original exhibition project was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative (funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by the University of the Arts), Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Pennsylvania Humanities Council (the Federal-State Partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities), Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, William Penn Foundation and Philadelphia Folklore Project friends.