by Maida Owens, Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program Director
This story appeared in the November issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
We all know that Louisiana is at the forefront of environmental change from land loss due to sea level rise. Restoring Louisiana’s physical coast has received most of the focus and funding, while cultural concerns resulting from increasing disruption have received less attention. The Louisiana Folklore Society started the Bayou Culture Collaborative (BCC) in 2018 after conversations about ways to address this gap in the community resilience conversation.
The collaborative aims to connect those interested in traditional culture, the arts and science in the face of Louisiana’s land loss and the impact of increasing migration. This work includes preservation efforts in both vulnerable and receiving communities.
The Louisiana Folklife Program has responded by offering small grants to help culture bearers pass on traditions within their communities. Special emphasis has been on supporting vulnerable communities especially those that have not previ-ously received arts grants. Additional effort has supported endangered traditions no matter the risk level to the commu-nity. Each workshop has offered experiential, hands-on opportunities to learn these traditions.
Passing It On workshops might be of special interest to preservationists, including Dale Pierrottie’s bousillage workshops at Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site and Grayhawk Perkins’ workshops on how to use a shaving horse, a bench for woodworking. Other traditions passed on with support from grants include storytelling, foodways, singing and crafts, such as Houma palmetto weaving, cypress dugout restoration and waxed flower making, the precursor of plastic flowers for gravesites. Some workshops were held in French.
Grayhawk Perkins leads a Passing It On workshop on how to use a shaving horse. Photos courtesy of Grayhawk Perkins.
In 2019, the BCC began offering in-person workshops, which then moved online during the pandemic. Efforts have increased this year with the Bayou Culture Gatherings, monthly online meetings that have provided participants with a way to go deeper as they learn and share. More than 500 people have signed up to receive the program announcements, and the gatherings attract a diverse audience of community activists, environmentalists, cultural researchers and agency representatives. The BCC has become a network to collaborate with those advocating for this human dimension of land loss and disruption.
The 2022 Gatherings began with Jonathan Foret’s moving call to action, Sinkin’ In: Culture and Disruption. Topics have ranged from traditional ecological knowledge to culture and mobility. Colette Pichon Battle’s talk, Choosing Louisiana, was inspiring and motivating. We will revisit Foret’s theme at the two remaining gatherings this year, set for Nov. 18 and Dec. 16, both at noon via Zoom. While the schedule ends in December, additional gatherings are being planned for Spring 2023.
At the first gathering in January 2022, BCC participants created working groups, and those focused on culture/planning, artists/tradition bearers/writers, language preservation and receiving communities are now active. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Out of the working groups came a call for a position statement to address the human dimension in environmental planning. More than 30 people worked on the statement for more than four months to articulate principles and recommend action steps. The position statement recommends that the state help communities identify, assess and determine appropriate actions for endangered historic and archaeological sites, local museums, collections and landscapes. Groups and individuals are invited to sign on in support.
In-person BCC workshops resumed this year with events held for Louisiana Main Street managers, Main Street Now, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and others. These workshops introduced the field of climate planning and adaptation in addition to offering cultural strategies for both vulnerable and receiving communities. A Plan-to-Plan worksheet outlined the players, issues and resources that are needed to take the first steps in assessing a community’s situ-ation. A resource list also was available.
These efforts have been generously funded by the Louisiana Division of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Nicholls State University also supported the gatherings.
If you would like to receive announcements about BCC offerings, sign up at louisianafolklore.org. You’ll also find links to sign the position statement, see details about the working groups, and view recordings of workshops and gatherings on the LFS YouTube Channel. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Contact the BCC at [email protected]
As director of the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program, Maida Owens has worked with tradition bearers and communities for more than 30 years. She has conducted folklife surveys, produced exhibits and documentaries, published both virtual and print books, managed grants programs and curated the Folklife in Louisiana website and the Louisiana Voices Educator’s Guide. Since 2019, she has partnered with the Louisiana Folklore Society’s Bayou Culture Collaborative to help Louisiana sustain its traditional cultures in the face of increasing disruption and migration due to land loss. She is a co-founder of the collaborative and serves on its management team.
Dale Pierrottie teaches how to make bousillage in a Passing It On workshop. Photos courtesy of Dale Pierrottie.