Skip navigation

Handbook for Presenting Mississippi’s Artists

V. Completing the Project /Assessing the Long-Range Results

Completing the Project

Evaluate the Results

At the close of a residency, festival or other large project, the sponsoring organization must carefully evaluate it. All planners and participants should gather to assess what was good and less than good in the program. It is hoped that the project will have been successful and all will want it to live on. Two things should happen here. First, the group should evaluate the project’s effect and plan for the future. Should an annual residency program be developed? Do all of the collaborating organizations want to stay involved? What changes need to be made in the project’s mission? Second, it is a good idea to evaluate the “nuts and bolts” of the event, to make certain that this year’s difficulties are avoided next year. In examining problems, which arose in the course of the project, the emphasis should not be on assigning blame, but on seeing how they can be avoided in the future. In examining the program’s successes, the evaluators may note immediate ones, such as the size of audience and its enjoyment level, the artist’s feeling of satisfaction, etc., but will need to keep in mind that the results of such programs (see “Keep in Touch” below) are usually long-range, often not revealing themselves until years after the original program.

File a Final Report

At the close of a project funded by the Mississippi Arts Commission, the local organization will be required to file a report that describes the program offered, audiences reached, planning partnerships formed, and the impact of the program upon the community. This information is not permanently relegated to a file folder. The Commission uses it in a number of ways: to evaluate the effectiveness of its own programs, to report to the National Endowment for the Arts, and to celebrate and communicate the success of your project to other state and national arts organizations, the state Legislature, and others who share an interest in the vitality of community arts.

Archive the Products

In the course of working on the Artists Build Communities program, the local arts agency will have produced a number of taped interviews with accompanying transcripts or tape logs, as well as photographs, videotapes, newspaper articles, and printed programs. Place these in a public institution, such as a local library or museum, where they will be preserved and made available to the public for use without damage to the materials. Consent forms that clearly spell out permissible uses for these materials should accompany them.

Keep in Touch

Bess Lomax Hawes, retired director of the Folk Arts Program at the National Endowment for the Arts, tells in the book Public Folklore the story of a student who complained that she had taught him to collect folklore, but she had not taught him how to stop collecting it. He explained that the woman who had supplied him with all the information he used in a paper on folk curing beliefs was continually calling him with yet another folk cure, even though he had long finished his project. Hawes answered that the woman apparently had believed he was interested in what she knew rather than just meeting a course requirement. Thereafter, she warned classes, “Watch out whom you collect from. When you talk with somebody about his or her folklore, you move quickly and often imperceptibly into a realm of deep intimacy, much deeper—in my experience—than you ever intended to go. And afterwards you find you haven’t just collected folklore, you’re very apt to have made a new friend with all the responsibilities, as well as the delights, that friendship brings.” It is likely that those who work closely with a traditional artist in a residency or other program will not want to end the relationship with the filing of a final report, but will continue to be concerned with that person’s personal and artistic well-being.

Assessing Long-Range Results

It’s over. Fieldwork done; artist selected and presented; reports written, tapes and photos archived. The wrap-up session has adjourned and everyone has agreed on at least one thing—it surely would have been easier to hire a professional touring group with its own promotional package, transportation, and sound system! While pondering whether the presentation of a tradition bearer was worth the extra effort, consider the intangible benefits that the program may have offered both the artist and the community.

The Artist’s Impact on Audiences

An organization’s willingness to seek out and present tradition bearers gives audiences an opportunity to enjoy unique performances by talented individuals who might never be presented otherwise. Traditional artists, pleased to be given the chance to share their music, crafts, and stories, often form a natural rapport with the audience that elevates the performance into a special experience for those present.

Tradition bearers express and exemplify values that need to be expressed. Without preaching or lecturing, they address the topics of respect for the knowledge of elders, of making something of value from almost nothing, of filling idle hours with worthwhile pastimes, of putting down roots in the community and serving that community. When young people see persons from their community presented as tradition bearers, the effects may be far-reaching. According to the Florida Folklife Program’s guide for classroom teachers, “The realization that he is an integral link in the chain of tradition may provide today’s young person with the identity and purpose that his life often seems to lack. The foundation for a more meaningful future may be considerably strengthened by an appreciation of the role and importance of the cultural traditions of his people.”

Presenters of traditional arts can be certain that their efforts will help Mississippians become aware and more appreciative of the talents of traditional artists within their communities, and the diversity and richness of Mississippi folk culture. This is a valuable service, for as Sarah Gertrude Knott, founder of the National Folk Festival, points out in Public Folklore, “no one would want to dull the richness of that pattern. The cultural outlook for the future would be bleak indeed if we overlooked the distinctive, individual cultures in a universalized, standardized, regimented culture.”

The Audience’s Impact on Artists

The Presenter’s Guide to the 1990 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife opens with a quotation from Alan Lomax: “The Festival beats a big drum for folklore on a national level, but it is doubtful whether this is of much use to the separate traditions and to their carriers—for these traditions are local and their carriers depend upon local audiences. In my mind then, the most important thing that the Festival can do is aid and strengthen the singers.” It does this by honoring them, appreciating them, and by valuing what they do. They leave the festival with a sense that their traditions are important, even if their neighbors do not acknowledge them. Having received national recognition, it is more likely that the neighbors will see their significance.

The late Cajun fiddler, Dewey Balfa, provided a vivid example of how this process works: he and his family continued to play Cajun music long after American popular music pushed it out of most homes in southwest Louisiana. To younger members of the family, the old music was an embarrassment, and when the Balfa Brothers began going to national folk festivals, friends and family predicted they would be laughed at. However, at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival, enthusiastic audiences would not let them off of the stage. Balfa went back to Louisiana with applause echoing in his ears, determined to convince his people of the value of their own music. As a result of his efforts and the interest shown by outsiders attracted to Acadia, young Cajuns developed pride in their traditional culture, giving Cajun music, dance, language, architecture, occupations and foodways a new and, hopefully, long-lasting vitality.

Similarly, the women of Port Gibson, Mississippi, had made quilts as long as anyone could remember. Though the quilts were skillfully made and highly artistic, they were not especially valued by the community, and young people showed little interest in learning to make them. Working together, a local arts organization and the quilters changed that perception. In 1989 Hystercine Rankin, a quilter at Mississippi Cultural Crossroads, was named a “master artist” by the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program of the Mississippi Arts Commission, and she later gained many honors for her quilting. This official recognition helped others see the beauty and importance of Mrs. Rankin’s work and gave her a forum for encouraging others to take up the craft. At Art WORKS Mrs. Rankin spoke not only of the many beautiful quilts that have been made in the area by young and old, but also of the self-confidence built, the souls healed, and the idle hours filled in the process.

As Lomax wrote, “traditions are local and their carriers depend upon local audiences.” Those who locate tradition bearers and call them to the attention of the local community help “strengthen the singers” and preserve that community’s distinctive culture. Arts programming which does this is absolutely worthwhile. It enriches both artist and audience, reminding the community that the very characteristics which lend a community diversity also serve to unite it.

« Previous Section · Main Page · Next Section »