Arts Mid-Hudson

Folk Arts

What is the Folk Arts Program and what does it do?

The Arts Council’s Folk Arts Program works with Mid-Hudson Valley-based folk artists and traditional bearers to preserve and present the rich heritage and diversity of area residents.

The staff folklorist identifies and documents various arts and traditions practiced among different communities living in the Mid-Hudson Valley by doing ethnographic fieldwork.

Ethnographic fieldwork explores how cultural communities celebrate themselves and can include taking pictures, conducting interviews, and attending formal and informal community events. Based on this research, the folklorist, in collaboration with community organizations, presents the folklife of cultural, ethnic, occupational, regional, and religious groups at public programs ranging from festivals to library interactive events to lecture-demonstrations.

The Program also offers Technical Assistance to area cultural organizations and traditional artisans.

St. Nicholas Church Poughkeepsie

The distinctive onion dome at Poughkeepsie’s St. Nicholas Church suggests the presence of a Russian community in the area and reflects that community’s commitment to displaying their cultural heritage

What are “folk arts,” “folklore” and “folklife”?

Ice Sailing

Sailing on ice, or ice yachting, continues to be a popular winter sport on the Hudson River and area lakes. Here, sailors move across Orange Lake, February, 2008.

These three terms refer to various traditional forms of creative expression practiced among groups of people, forms of expression through which members of a group affirm and pass on their shared identity.

Folklife can be“material culture” (meaning it is tangible), like the particular architectural features that define a Russian Orthodox Church, a quilt made by a quilting bee or a traditional Chinese knot. Folklife can also be ephemeral or intangible, like singing done by a Poughkeepsie gospel choir, knowledge of where to source edible wild mushrooms, superstitions about predicting the changing weather.

Some other examples of folk arts include culturally- or regionally-specific music, traditional domestic crafts, foodways, crafts associated with a hobby, traditional activities possible only in certain geographic locations, community celebrations and festivals.

Who has folklore and how is it learned?

Photo of Helen Fang

Helen Fang (right) demonstrates to an interested festivalgoer how to make a Chinese knot at the 2008 One River, Many Streams Festival’s interactive Folk Arts Tent.

Everyone has some folklore in their lives. Folklore exists within families, church groups and cultural groups, among co-workers, students and neighbors.

Photo of Ryann Kimble

Ryann Kimble practices writing Kanji, a Japanese calligraphy practice, at the Kakizome, the traditional first calligraphy writing of the year.

The group or community may be defined by almost any commonality, including age, gender, occupation, religion, hobby, ethnicity or geographic location. Folklore is learned informally, passed from generation to generation. Although folklore may change a bit with each successive generation, these traditions are remarkably stable. They continue to be practiced and shared because they are meaningful to the community that performs them.

Because folk arts, folklore and folklife are creative expressions of a shared identity based on a common past, they come to symbolize group identity. Through these expressions we can learn about the groups that practices them.

Examples of local folk traditions

Japanese Koto

Japanese KotoThe koto consists of a long wooden sound box with strings stretched across it horizontally and supported by movable bridges. To play the instrument, the musician plucks the strings to the right of the bridges with her right hand. At the same time, she uses her left hand on the other side of the bridges to change the sound of the notes by pressing down on a string before it is plucked to raise the pitch or after it is plucked to create a bending of the note.

Listen to Koto (MP3)

Ghanaian Drumming

Photo of Maxwell Kofi Donkor“The drum is the musical instrument most commonly associated with Africa.”

This assertion from the Encyclopedia of African Religion articulates both an advantage and a challenge to this type of music that Ghanaian drummer Maxwell Kofi Donkor has experienced throughout his life. Kofi, a Hudson Valley resident and representative of the musical traditions of the Asante (Ashanti) people of Ghana, West Africa, enjoys success as he travels the region performing and teaching this widely recognizable form of African music.

Listen to Kofi (MP3)


Want to get involved or want more information?

We welcome your suggestions for future projects and ideas about how we can work with you to celebrate your community’s heritage. We often collaborate with community and cultural organizations to offer culturally sensitive, informative public programs. Please be in touch with us if you have ideas about how we can help preserve and present your group’s folklore or if your group might benefit from technical assistance.

Call 845.454.3222 or

Dutchess County Arts Council Folk Arts Program supported in part by:

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Light writing workshop at closing of exhibit, Golden Anniversary: 50 Years of Mid-Hudson Artists