An Introduction

An Introduction

As the new Director of the Folk and Traditional Arts program here at the Mississippi Arts Commission, I thought I’d pen a brief letter as I intercept the position, and with it, a deep history of important work documenting and supporting cultural creativity here in the South. 

Indianola muralist and MAC grant recipient Bobby Whalen and I in front of his paintings at the historic Blues Corner Cafe in May.
Indianola muralist and MAC grant recipient Bobby Whalen and I in front of his paintings at the historic Blues Corner Cafe in May.

I come to Mississippi from a handful of different places and posts, but most recently from Nashville, Tennessee. Having studied public-sector folklore in college (Indiana) and graduate school (W. Kentucky), and working with arts-based organizations and museums in Washington, D.C., Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, I’ve been fortunate to learn from great mentors in folklore and neighboring fields like public history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, studio art and art history, documentary studies, Southern studies, and so on. All of this has led me to understand the necessity of operating within a diverse network of folks working to support and sustain both time-honored and emergent creative traditions.

Mississippi's traditional art forms like Choctaw basketry, Hill Country blues, Delta hot tamales, a festival for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Forest, the Blessing of the Fleet in Biloxi, or even letterpress printmaking in Jackson, give us the motivation to keep learning, keep sharing, and keep creating.

Carrying these experiences with me, I hope to make the Folk and Traditional Arts program here at the MAC one which feels increasingly accessible and useful to all persons, regions, ethnicities, and at all levels of income and ability, and one which speaks to the variety of experience and identity within the state. My vision is for the program to provide meaningful support for traditional artists and their communities, to serve as a sounding board for network and capacity-building partnerships that lead to real, productive good, and to ensure that the program is responsive to communities who have been historically marginalized or underserved.

Folk arts and folklife, two challenging terms that ebb and flow just as cultures ebb and flow, are those everyday arts that may sometimes be overlooked as something worth protecting, but actually provide an extraordinary amount of meaning and perspective on what it means to be a part of a community and a place—however they may be defined. Mississippi's traditional art forms like Choctaw basketry, Hill Country blues, Delta hot tamales, a festival for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Forest, the Blessing of the Fleet in Biloxi, or even letterpress printmaking in Jackson, give us the motivation to keep learning, keep sharing, and keep creating.

Your feedback will be a great resource in focusing the program's direction in years to come.

Looking ahead to the future of the program has also caused me to look back at the impressive work of my predecessors, who’ve been resources to myself and to the public from the beginning:

As a newcomer to Mississippi, I have a lot of listening to do. Fortunately, I believe every person has some way of connecting with folk and traditional arts because they speak so clearly to one’s own community, place, and culture. I greatly look forward to learning about your own creative traditions, and finding ways to work together to help sustain and share them.

Quilters, community members, and myself at the opening of the “Sew and So” quilting exhibit at Pearl St. AME Community Development Corps, supported by a MAC project grant. Miss Birda, 3rd from left, 90 years, handquilted the works on either side of us.
Quilters, community members, and myself at the opening of the “Sew and So” quilting exhibit at Pearl St. AME Community Development Corps, supported by a MAC project grant. Miss Birda, 3rd from left, 90 years, handquilted the works on either side of us.

With all this in mind, I hope you’ll consider sharing your ideas and perspective on the future of the MAC’s Folk and Traditional Arts program by taking this brief survey. Your feedback will be a great resource in focusing the program's direction in years to come.

Finally, we'll be getting into the groove of regular updates on Mississippi Folklife, with new multimedia-based articles from cultural workers throughout the state, dispatches on folklife-related programs and events, and a look back at some of the great writing from the Mississippi Folklife print publication. We'll even be sharing some photos and audio from the MAC’s small-but-rich Folklife Archives.

Till then,

Jennifer Joy Jameson

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Jennifer Joy Jameson

Jennifer Joy Jameson

Jennifer Joy Jameson is a public folklorist and cultural organizer with an interest in documenting the ways culture shapes creativity, especially in rural spaces. She directed the Folk and Traditional Arts program at the Mississippi Arts Commission from 2014 to early 2017 and now works with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts in Los Angeles. From 2015-2017, Jameson partnered with local people in McComb, MS for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s current exhibition of Loy Bowlin’s Beautiful Holy Jewel Home called ‘The Making of a Dream: Loy Bowlin + Jennifer Joy Jameson’ (2017-2019). More about the work and writing of Jameson at www. jenniferjoyjameson.net