This story appeared in the February issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
By Shana Walton, Louisiana Folklore Society and Center for Bayou Studies, Nicholls State University
The Louisiana Folklore Society has started online gatherings to connect those interested in cultural issues concerning Louisiana’s coastal changes. Every month, those interested in the human dimension of coastal issues gather virtually to learn and share. Each gathering features a discussion topic in addition to news, announcements and questions. Topics range from the practical, such as how to help threatened community museums, to policy discussions, such as how to include cultural durability in the community resilience conversation, to sessions that are devoted to simply sharing cultural traditions, such as a hike to forage wolfberry along brackish marshes.
With funding from the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the society hired Mike Saunders as the Bayou Culture Collaborative (BCC) Program director. “Cultural resilience is the key to the landscape’s resilience,” said Saunders, an anthropologist with 30 years of experience working with communities on cultural preservation in the face of environmental change. Organizing the gatherings is just one of his tasks. He also will help communities identify cultural resources and participate in conversations on how to include cultural issues in planning.
Communities need tools to protect both heritage and landscape, he said. “This concern will drive my work with BCC, especially given the way in which culture, tradition and belief intersect with environmental issues,” Saunders said.
Community members worked on the Rougarou Fest Quilt at the festival, and then quilters put the finished piece together. It depicts the “ghost trees” in the dying marshes.
While restoring the physical coast has received the most focus and funding, cultural concerns have received less attention. Seeing a need to address this gap in the community resilience conversation, the Louisiana Folklore Society started the BCC. Growing out of conversations at the 2018 Louisiana Folklore Society annual meeting in Houma, the BCC seeks to sustain Louisiana’s traditional cultures in the face of coastal land loss. The goal is to help communities deal with a broad range of cultural issues while facing coastal land loss and other environmental changes — from assisting with repairs of small museums devastated by hurricanes, to tracking population movement after flood inundations, to protecting historic structures that lie in the path of future sea level rise. The efforts are supported by the Center for Bayou Studies at Nicholls State University, where Saunders is a research fellow.
The gatherings expand previous Bayou Culture Collaborative efforts by the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program, which was the first to respond to the call to action. The Folklife Program supports two types of workshops: Passing It On and Sense of Place – and Loss. Both workshops are still being planned and funded. Contact Maida Owens at [email protected] if you would like to explore possibilities. Or visit louisianafolklife.org/bayouculture for more information.
The Passing It On workshops fund tradition bearers in coastal areas to hand down traditions within their community. Since 2019, traditions supported include French music and dance, foodways, wood carving, boat building, Mardi Gras costume making, doll making, palmetto weaving, brown cotton weaving, sewing regalia and storytelling in traditional cultures across the coast, including Cajun, African American and several indigenous tribes.
The Sense of Place— and Loss workshops have a broader, statewide focus. These workshops explore the connections between art, tradition and science to inspire advocacy and creativity in the face of land loss and cultural shifts. Some past workshops are online, and others will focus on helping communities start local conversations about including cultural issues in planning.
Since 1956, the Louisiana Folklore Society’s annual meeting has been a place to share research and community projects and to network with others concerned about Louisiana’s cultures. Conversations at the gatherings will continue at the 2022 meeting on April 1-2 in Breaux Bridge through presentations and panel discussions. Members include university professors, professional folklorists in the public sector, educators, museum workers, graduate students and anyone interested in Louisiana’s traditions and cultural groups.
There are several ways to connect. Find the Louisiana Folklore Society on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for news and updates, and join the BCC Facebook group. For information about the gatherings and the annual meeting, visit louisianafolklore.org.
Dr. Shana Walton is a professor in the Department of English, Modern Languages, and Cultural Studies and is affiliated with the Center for Bayou Culture at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.
At the Passing It On workshops, participants make duck carvings and traditional costumes.