Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bringing It To The Table

Arkansas State Folklorist Mike Luster at the Roundtable; Jennifer Joy Jameson

By Rachel Reynolds Luster, Contributing Editor

Last month Art of The Rural joined a host of artists and cultural workers from around the country in Fox, Arkansas for the 2nd Annual Meadowcreek Roundtable. The gathering brought together people working in the fields of folklore, literature, film, ethnomusicology, ethnobiology as well as others with an interest in community action, bioregionalism, social justice, and local food systems.

The original concept for this retreat was born from conversations following a panel presentation at the American Folklore Society Annual Meeting in 2010 where I, my husband Mike Luster, and our friend and colleague Meredith Martin-Moats of The Boiled Down Juice presented a panel entitled, Community Based Folklife Practice.

We called for an interdisciplinary holistic approach to community renewal and sufficiency, and a lively conversation followed for nearly an hour after the panel. That discussion bore an online component, the Community-Based Folklore Practice Facebook group, which broadened the conversation to include additional artists as well various voices from around the nation and across multiple disciplines ranging from community-engaged design to peace and justice activists alongside the many folklorists working in the public sector, and the Meadowcreek Roundtable was created to serve as the physical manifestation of that open conversation.

We call it the Roundtable because we firmly believe that some of the best conversations come at the table, or in preparing and enjoying meals. For three days we gather, we talk, we cook, we eat, we play music, we walk and swim. This year we enjoyed several wonderful films including Witch Hazel Advent by Fayetteville, Arkansas, filmmaker Sarah Moore Chyrchel. There are babies and dogs there too.

Angel Band by The Meadowcreek Singers by joyamerica

More than anything, we try to identify what we see that we’d like to change in terms of cultural practice and/or its impediments, the funding structures that dictate what work is fundable, how culture (whether it be rural/urban, fine/traditional) is represented in media, where we might draw inspiration from one another and those “doing it right” across the country and how we can contribute to, in Gandhi’s phrase, being the change that we want to see. And then we go home and set out to do it, renewed and inspired. This year was no exception.

The American Folklore Society has generously supported the retreat for the past two years. This year, The Arkansas Folklife Program at Arkansas State University and that school’s Heritage Studies Department sponsored the event as well. Thus far, we’ve been able to keep the gathering free for attendees including registration, lodging, food, and childcare. We prepare the meals together from scratch and everyone chips in to do whatever else needs doing. It’s a truly beautiful thing in a lovely place. The Boiled Down Juice has also posted a story about the Meadowcreek Roundtable that offers a more in-depth discussion of the Meadowcreek property and its history and links to many of this year’s gathering’s attendees, their organizations and their work.

Here's two of this year's participants reflecting on the experience:
For me, the Meadowcreek Roundtable has been an incredibly important resource. The meetings have fostered invaluable and directive conversation with peers and senior colleagues that have stayed with me long after the weekend of the roundtable. For two years, I've come in with ideas and questions about how to carry out meaningful cultural work. Each time, I have come away with substantial mentorship, leading me to ask deeper questions about the intersections of folklife and cultural sustainability, and encouraging me to proceed boldly. - Writer and Folklorist Jennifer Joy Jameson
I came away from the Meadowcreek Roundtable retreat inspired and full of new ideas. In fact, on the drive home, a fellow attendee carpooling with me and I conceptualized a creative collaboration for our own community which we are in the initial stages of implementing. Without a designated time and place for such creative incubation to occur, I doubt we would have seen this project materialize, let alone make it to fruition. - Filmmaker Sarah Moore Chyrchel
If you and your organization would like to support or participate in next year’s gathering please contact us. We’d love to have you at the ‘Table.