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New York Folklore Society
Folk Arts Forum
on Immigrant/Refugee Issues

Brooklyn Arts Council, Brooklyn, NY
November 4, 2005


Folk Arts Forum on Immigrant/Refugee Issues
  • Friday, November 4, 2005
    11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. with lunch in the neighborhood at 1:00 p.m.
    Brooklyn Arts Council

    55 Washington Street, Suite 218
    Brooklyn, New York
Immigrant Forum speakers Laura Marcus and Bill Westerman
Forum speakers Laura Marcus and Bill Westerman

Laura R. Marcus
Santa Fe, New Mexico

“The Best of Everything:” Collaborative Approaches to Working with Refugee and Immigrant Traditional Artists and Communities

Whether they are arriving from refugee camps or more peaceful situations, people resettling in the United States often carry in their suitcases an astonishing array of arts-related items from home: tools, instruments, a closet’s worth of handmade linens, special cooking pots and more. The precious room allotted to these treasures speaks to the importance of traditional arts in people’s lives. Yet the physical objects that people bring are an outer manifestation of intangible resources — the knowledge they bring with them of how to do things, the memories that connect these items with home and particular cultural contexts, and the possibility of weaving continuity, comfort and meaning into life in a new country. How can folklorists work with incoming refugee and immigrant traditional artists and communities to make these connections a vital part of their lives in a new home? How can we collaborate with artists, community organizations, and colleagues in the allied fields of social services and arts marketing, among others, to form a network that effectively and holistically serves refugee and immigrant artists and communities? This presentation will present examples of interdisciplinary and intercultural collaboration to explore strategies for cultural preservation and program development in serving newcomers in an ever-shifting cultural landscape.

Laura R. Marcus is an independent folklorist specializing in cultural arts and heritage fieldwork, consulting, special projects and writing. Current work includes: a nationally based, interdisciplinary project with the Institute for Cultural Partnerships in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, designed to build a bridge between the arts and social service fields in serving refugee and immigrant artists and communities; fieldwork and consulting with refugee and immigrant traditional artists and community-based organizations in Boise for the Idaho Commission on the Arts; and research assistance for the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada. Recent positions include Program Associate at the Fund for Folk Culture and founding Coordinator of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization’s Arts for New Immigrants Program in Portland, Oregon. Laura holds an M.A. in folklore and anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin and a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University, where her research focused on historical and contemporary Navajo trading and art as a cultural meeting place. Selected exhibits and publications include Traditional Arts of the Oregon Country, In My Country: A Gathering of Refugee and Immigrant Fiber Arts Traditions, and Professional Development in Folklore: A Resource Guide for Graduate Students and New Professionals.

Bill Westerman
Chicago, Illinois/Bound Brook, New Jersey

This presentation will discuss and highlight some of Laura Marcus’ points, with illustration from Bill’s own professional experience as well. In particular he will discuss three issues that pertain to working with immigrant artists but which are rarely discussed. These are the economic situation and needs of recently arrived immigrants; the lingering effects of trauma and stress in the lives of refugees and displaced persons; and the erosion of human rights of immigrants and refugees overall. All three have a bearing on the processes of artistic creation and distribution, but their effects are often more apparent to social service providers than to arts agencies and presenters. He will also talk about some of the ways that folklorists can form links to service providers, improving the quality of service while helping artists to have greater opportunities to create.

Bill Westerman recently assumed the post of Director at the Chicago Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial. The museum and memorial are projects of the Cambodian Association of Illinois supported by the Joyce Foundation. Previously Westerman was Immigrant Outreach Coordinator for the “New York Creates” craft and folk artist initiative at the New York Foundation for the Arts. NYFA’s NYCreates program assists craft and folk artists/artisans in enhancing the income they receive practicing their art, thereby bringing greater economic progress to them and to their communities. Bill’s research and writing have focused on Cambodian and Chinese immigrant and refugee history and on folk belief informing the Sanctuary movement to shelter Central American refugees in the United States.

Read a partial transcript from this forum, as published in Voices 32(3-4):3-12.

Recommended Reading List for Forum on Immigrant/Refugee Issues

Breslin, Jimmy. The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez. NY: Crown Publishers, 2002.

Budhos, Marina Tamar. Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers. NY: Henry Holt, 1999.

Bye, Carolyn, and Fund for Folk Culture. “Brave New World: Nurturing the Arts in New Immigrant and Refugee Communities.” Issues in Folk Arts and Traditional Culture, Working Paper Series, #2. 2004. The Fund for Folk Culture. 1 Nov. 2005.

Graves, James Bau. Cultural Democracy: The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2005.

Lehrer, Warren, and Judith Sloan. Crossing the Boulevard: Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens in a New America. NY: W.W. Norton, 2003.

Modic, Kate, and Ron Kirby. Refugee Arts: A Strategy for Successful Resettlement: A Manual for Refugee Service Workers and Refugee Artists. Harrisburg, PA: Institute for Cultural Partnerships, 1997.

Moriarty, Pia. Immigrant Participatory Arts: An Insight into Community-Building in Silicon Valley. Inquiries into Culture Series. San José, CA: Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, 2004.

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