Folklife Defined

The next time you put out a pumpkin for Halloween, cut scraps of fabric for a quilt, or sing Happy Birthday, you will be practicing folklife.

Somali showcaseFolklife is a word with a past and a future. Much more than just folklore and folk music, “folklife is the everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass on to the next generation.”

Northwest Folklife creates opportunities for all to celebrate, share, and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest. Everyone is a bearer of folk arts; and participation in the arts is as important as observing them.

In 1976, as the United States celebrated its Bicentennial, the U.S. Congress passed the American Folklife Preservation Act (P.L. 94-201). In writing the legislation, Congress had to define folklife. Here is what the law says:

“American folklife” means the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States: familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, regional; expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual, pageantry, handicraft; these expressions are mainly learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and are generally maintained without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction.

buttoned hatIn her article American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures for The American Folklife Center, Mary Hufford’s synopsis is ‘Folklife is community life and values, artfully expressed in myriad interactions. It is universal, diverse, and enduring. It enriches the nation and makes us a commonwealth of cultures.’

Please join Northwest Folklife in celebrating, sharing and participating in the evolving traditions of our richly diverse communities’ folklife.

‘Folklife’ is arts and culture as a way of life.

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