Iowa Arts Council Folk Arts Program Records, 1976-2006

Program History

Folklorist Steve Siporin set the stage for the Iowa Arts Council Folk Arts Program during a six-month position in 1977-1978 supported by a federal CETA jobs program (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act). During his tenure, he prepared “A Brief Guide to Collecting Folklore in Iowa,” documented Italian-Americans in Central Iowa, and introduced workshops to help local groups develop their own folklore projects. One workshop inspired a Fort Dodge high school journalism class to publish a collection of oral histories and folklore especially related to a memorable tornado. Siporin returned as a consultant to the Iowa Arts Council for a few months in 1979. With Gordon Kellenberger, he worked on a project in the Amana Colonies that involved workshops, cultural landscape preservation planning, and ultimately, several years later, a “Culture and the Environment: The Legacy of the Amana Colonies” conference sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Iowa Arts Council's Folk Arts Program began in February 1982 with the hire of folklorist Steve Ohrn. Ohrn established the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, and initiated several documentary projects. His first survey of traditional artists across Iowa resulted in the “Passing Time and Traditions” exhibit that opened in the State Capitol rotunda, toured the state, and was accompanied by the exhibit catalog, Passing Time and Traditions. In the mid-1980s, Ohrn and Amana Arts Guild founding member Gordon Kellenberger documented traditional artists from the Amana Colonies. Using the interviews and objects borrowed from more than 100 Amana residents, Ohrn mounted a 5,000-plus-square-foot exhibit at the State Historical Society of Iowa and produced an accompanying catalog, Remaining Faithful: Amana Traditions in Transition. Ohrn's last project as state folklorist was “Folk Arts on the Freeway,” a rest-stop exhibit he produced with Kellenberger. In 1987, Ohrn moved from the Arts Council to the State Historical Society of Iowa Museum Division, where he continued to incorporate folk arts into his work until his retirement in 2003.

David Brose replaced Ohrn as state folklorist in 1987 and served until 1992, emphasizing programming and documentation related to traditional music in Iowa.

In 1995, folklorist Rachelle H. (“Riki”) Saltzman assumed the position, greatly expanding the program's folk arts focus and outreach. Through 2008, Saltzman has coordinated about a dozen grant-funded projects that have required fieldwork and generated documentary collections. Her largest endeavor was the massive field survey leading up to the Iowa program of the 1996 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife and its restaging in Des Moines later that summer. This effort provided foundations for the 1997 Iowa Folklife Directory and database and the 1997 folk arts education guide, Iowa Folklife: Our People, Communities, and Traditions. National Endowment for the Arts Network and Mentoring funding, 1997-2000, supported a series of Folklife Institutes, technical assistance to develop folklife programming at Iowa Tourism and Diversity conferences, and a series of ethnic community surveys and tours. Another multi-year project, “Iowa Traditions in Transition,” 1998-2000, enabled folk arts surveys of Iowa's newest refugee and immigrant populations, training of community scholars, and community collaboration that resulted in cultural programming and projects. Since 1998, the Iowa Arts Council's Folk Arts Program also supported several multi-state projects including the “Global Sounds, Heartland Beats” tour in seven Midwestern states, the “Missouri River Folklife Survey,” and numerous tri-state folklife festivals involving Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The Program's varied projects are described more fully in the Scope and Content Note section.