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Resources and Technical Assistance in Folk Arts

The Philadelphia Folklore Project has been doing technical assistance - both workshops and one-on-one assistance - from our very beginning, for more than 26 years, as part of an effort in public interest folklore practice. This section gathers materials used in these efforts to invest in sustainable and diverse local folk arts.

Skip to documents, information, resources and tools related to project development and grant-writing in folk arts here.
Skip to a referral form, to request information about an artist or consultation here.

About Technical Assistance at PFP

PFP started out as a project to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Folklore Society. Surveying local organizations with the idea of organizing a first Philadelphia Folklore Month, we quickly realized that those who could most easily participate in a city-wide collaboration were those who already had resources: organizations, buildings, space, staff, funding. Yet the cultural work, art-making, programs and ideas of diverse grassroots folk and traditional arts groups were clearly exceptional in vision, significance, relevance, and connection to vital traditions and communities. The funding disparities were huge, and folk and traditional artists were among the least funded of all - receiving just 2 -4 % of arts funding dollars. Newcomers to the worlds of arts and culture, and learning along with grassroots constituents, we began our TA programs in 1987 aiming to even the playing field - to help get critically needed grant dollars to culturally diverse grassroots folk cultural groups and traditional artists. We have changed the TA program in many ways over time, but we have always made changes in purposeful ways, to respond to local needs and changing issues.

Over time, we have sharpened our sense of both barriers and needs. Some things are slow to change. It seems to us that resources are often confused with excellence - and conversely, groups with persistent lack of what counts as resources (in someone else's book) are frequently imagined as lacking in excellence. Much of our work has to do with helping folk and traditional artists and grassroots groups to be judged by terms that are appropriate for them. This means that we start with trying to understand what excellence means in a given arts tradition and community context. We're fighting a fight similar to that waged by educational advocates: we know that it is counter-productive to "teach to the test". Working alongside grassroots traditional artists, we get educated about where we need to work together to "push back" against barriers to access, and to funding opportunities.

Over the past 26 years, we have helped more than 398 grassroots groups and traditional artists raise more than $3.2 million dollars in funds to support their work. We are proud of this number, and of the collective effort that it represents.

In some ways, this feels like a lot of money, a lot of resources. But we are keenly aware of how small this number feels in relation to the talents and skills of so many worthy local artists and organizations: ten times 2.9 million might begin to make a dent in the need, or might begin to reach a bit more widely in supporting worthy work. So we can't help but also see the 2.9 million as a measure of the incredible artistry, skill and competence, cultural tradition, community resources, left at risk.

The dollars that we have helped others to raise reflects our way of working out what equity means. All of our technical assistance work is offered for free, and this is important to us. We aim to invest in folk arts in the region: so every year, we have helped others to raise 48 cents for every dollar we have raised for PFP. (That also means that people investing in PFP can count on $1.48 of work for every $1.) We share skills, knowledge and time, but constituents develop their own projects and their ideas. The grant funds are their dollars to manage. All of this is purposeful: our dues, our way of giving back for the privilege of doing this work.

While we focus on getting necessary dollars into grassroots communities, the work that the Folklore Project has been doing on technical assistance over the past 26 years has been based on or related to a range of linked issues:

  • addressing divides in the arts: economic divides (where folk and traditional artists nationally continue to receive only 2-4% of arts dollars),
  • equity issues (cultural, representational, expressive, artistic),
  • literacies (of many kinds),
  • educational inequities and needs (related to the way that folk and traditional arts are taught/not taught, and to the education needs of traditional artists and grassroots cultural workers),
  • the class markers of art, arts philanthropy and the nonprofit sector (and the implications of such markers),
  • seeking for (and trying to build) practice, an economics, a language, and various modes that are appropriate and effective in working democratically and equitably,
  • valuing vernacular approaches to folk and traditional arts: supporting community-based solutions to sustaining alternative vernacular traditions, and of course
  • strategies for effectively sustaining diverse folk and traditional arts in the Philadelphia area,
  • paralled (increasingly) by an effort to document and articulate principled theory and practice of what we have come to see as radically plural antisubordination public interest folklore work (related to public folklore, critical race studies and alllied progressive culturally-grounded efforts).

Our TA programs remain open to all. We continue to focus on getting resources to grassroots cultural workers and folk and traditional artists by demystifying grants programs, coaching people through grant applications (piece by piece, element by element), translating and serving as scribes when needed (and possible), building peer support and grassroots advocacy around issues impacting folk arts, and building relationships and knowledge among grassroots folk and traditional artists and cultural workers.

Materials in these pages are some of the handouts we have developed to use at workshops. Please contact us with questions.