(article) Texas Folklife celebrates 25th Anniversery in 2010

Announcing a year of celebrations, a look back at accomplishments, and launch of the next 25 years

 Austin, Texas – Celebrating its 25th year presenting and preserving the diverse cultures and living heritage of the Lone Star State, Texas Folklife announces a year of outstanding programs and anniversary festivities. The non-profit organization, founded in 1984, honors the authentic cultural traditions passed down within Texas communities and explores their importance in contemporary society. Through performances, including prestigious concerts at the Kennedy Center in New York and the wildly popular annual Accordion Kings & Queens Festival in Houston; visually arresting exhibitions on subjects such as blues clubs in Houston, memory boxes made by children of Vietnamese immigrants, and West Texas ranch gates; outreach initiatives such as the Folk Arts in Education program; and collecting and archiving stories from Texas tradition bearers; Texas Folklife has fulfilled its mission in the last quarter century with great success.

            With past accomplishments in mind but eyes firmly focused on the future, the organization is announcing a year’s worth of cutting-edge programs, collaborative exhibitions, performances, and celebrations. Texas Folklife Executive Director Nancy Bless explains, “The last several years have been outstanding ones for Texas Folklife. We have gained a great deal of national exposure for traditional Texas artists through performances at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, and on public television stations throughout the country. We have clearly gained the respect of our peers and colleagues in the arts in that we were among a small number of organizations funded by the National Endowment for the Arts Recovery Funds. As a capstone to these achievements, we wish to celebrate our 25th anniversary with our supporters and new audiences alike in 2010, by announcing a banner year of programs and parties.”

            The year starts out with The Big Squeeze—an accordion contest for up-and-coming squeeze-boxers 21 years of age and younger. This year, the fourth annual, the contest goes on the road to audition the young musicians in their home communities. Auditions have been held in San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley, and Austin, and are yet to be held in Dallas, Schulenburg, Houston and San Angelo. The contest attracts a wide array of musical styles and genres, and has become a staple of the Accordion Kings & Queens Festival where the winner is chosen. Last year’s winner Heriberto Rodriquez received a prize package valued at $7,000, including an all expense paid trip to perform in Trossingen, Germany, the home of Hohner’s German factory, a day-long recording session at the historic SugarHill Recording Studios in Houston, as well as other promotional support.

            The Big Squeeze documentary by renowned filmmaker Hector Galán, which premiered at SXSW last year and tells the story of the first two years of The Big Squeeze contest, will continue to air on PBS stations nationwide. The film visits the young musicians and their families as they prepare for the contest, from the urban barrios of Houston to the colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border, sometimes nervous about the contest but always passionate about their musical and cultural legacy. In addition to following the contestants, the film features cameos of Zydeco greats Chubby Carrier and Step Rideau, Conjunto star Mingo Saldivar, and Country Western singer and songwriter Ginny Mac.

            Texas Folklife will present a retrospective on the documentaries of folklorist, author, photographer and filmmaker Alan Govenar in March in collaboration with SXSW, the George Washington Carver Museum, and the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos. Govenar’s career, spanning more than thirty years, has produced twenty books, many films, and the founding of Documentary Arts in 1985, dedicated to exploring and presenting new perspectives on history and diverse cultures. There will be two sessions at SXSW devoted to Govenar’s films; a gallery talk and reception at the Carver Museum; a screening of several of his short films plus book signing at the Wittliff Collections; and an exhibit at Texas Folklife Gallery based on his book Art For Life, which documents the life work of tattoo artist Ed Henry, book signing, and special reception. 

            “Stories from Deep in the Heart” will air on KUT Radio this spring. This program, a collaboration with Austin Independent School District and KUT, teaches students and teachers to record the memories of family members and produce short audio documentaries that highlight community traditions. This pilot project is fresh and inspiring and is an excellent example of the ways in which Texas Folklife is bringing traditional Texas culture to a broader audience. It follows in the footsteps of the successful “Border Radio Show” that has been broadcast on National Public Radio since 2006, and continues to bring performances by living Texas artists to the national stage.

            In June, Texas Folklife’s 21st annual Accordion Kings & Queens Festival will take place at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre. In recent years the free Festival has attracted a crowd of 6,000 to 7,000, and wowed the accordion-loving crowd with a full roster of great performers across all musical genres: Zydeco, Tejano, Conjunto, Western, and traditional German and Czech polka. It is no doubt that 2010 will be another outstanding year with performances by Texas Legacy Czech Band, Eva Ybarra, and Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners, among others. The Festival is truly magical, as it is held under the stars, features accordion stars, and crowns the next accordion king or queen with the final competition for The Big Squeeze taking place before the concert gets under way.

            Yard Show, an exhibition based on the book Yard Art and Handmade Places: Extraordinary Expressions of Home by Austin horticulturist Jill Nokes with photographs by Krista Whitsen, opens in September at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and concurrently at the Texas Folklife Gallery. The exhibition opened at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts last fall to an enthusiastic audience. It lovingly features the devotion of individuals as they turn their personal property into memorials, sacred spaces, sculptural fantasies, and cultural landmarks. This show is Texas Folklife at its best—presenting and promoting Texas’s rich and diverse heritage.

            Last but not least, in honor of its 25th year, Texas Folklife will celebrate with not one, but two parties in the fall. A grand gala anniversary part is planned to coincide with the Yard Show exhibition at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 30. The evening will be dedicated to the artists, musicians, writers, and scholars who have contributed so much to the organization over the last 25 years, with many of them in attendance as special guests. A free block party will be held on Saturday, October 2, near Texas Folklife on South Congress with music, food, and exhibits chronicling and celebrating Texas Folklife’s birthday—in true “Austintatious” fashion.

            The anticipated audience for Texas Folklife programs and performances in 2010 is expected to be one million. This is a giant reach for the small non-profit that was started by several young folklorists in 1984. In the year ahead, Texas Folklife wishes to embrace the winning programs that helps it meet its mission of promoting Texas’s roots as well as the new ones powered by radio, television, and strong collaborations with other organizations. But, in addition to celebrating its 25th anniversary, Texas Folklife is looking ahead to the next 25 years. In the fall, a statewide survey called “A Place at the Table” will be launched. This is the first statewide survey conducted under its auspices since the survey done in the organization’s first years, which resulted in the popular exhibition Handmade and Heartfelt: Contemporary Folk Art in Texas. It will be a four-year project to document the state’s foodways and will be a collaboration with the Texas Commission on the Arts and Department of Agriculture. At the end of the survey period, Texas Folklife plans to collect enough documentation to fuel programming material for the next decade or so in order to give Texans much food for thought as well as a place at the table of cultural understanding.