Iowa Arts Council Folk Arts Program Records, 1976-2006

Scope and Content Note

The records described here represent the Folk Arts Program's general operations as well as many of the documentary projects sponsored by it. Projects for which records are available are described in chronological order from the oldest to the most recently completed. Most are in the possession of the Iowa Arts Council until the State Historical Society of Iowa Archives, to which they have been officially transferred, can accommodate them for further processing.

I. General Files, 1976-1994

The Program's earliest materials moved with Steve Ohrn when he took a position with the State Historical Society of Iowa Museum in 1987. Now stored in six file drawers at the Museum, they include: color and black-and-white photographs in folders labeled “Hmong Kohler [Arts Center in Wisconsin] exhibit,” “Passing Time and Traditions,” and “Remaining Faithful (Amana)”; three binders of black-and-white contact sheets from 1982 to 1984, labeled by year; color slides arranged alphabetically by artist in metal boxes and binders; photo and tape logs for most of the project-based material; and 25 sound recording cassettes and one mini-cassette, along with interview transcripts from the Amana project. Administrative files include grant narratives, budgets, correspondence, and notes related to the Amana project. Three card files contain artist contact information, and binders contain an artist resource inventory along with the contact sheets. A rough inventory of this collection is available at the Museum.

In the records housed at the Iowa Arts Council and slated for storage at the State Historical Society of Iowa Archives, a few general files date from 1976 to 1994 and contain publications, Steve Siporin's “A Brief Guide to Collecting Folklore in Iowa” manuscript, and a box of Steve Ohrn's sound recording cassettes of interviews with Iowa folk artists. These materials are listed in more detail in the inventory section of this collection guide.

II. 1984-1987: Avoca Folk Festival

The Avoca Folk Festival documentation includes reel-to-reel sound recordings of a variety of traditional, especially Old Time, musicians made by folklorist David Brose in 1987, as well as by folklorist Philip Nusbaum, 1984-1987, while employed at Cedar Falls, Iowa radio station KUNI.

III. 1987-1990: Cultural Heritage Program

This material includes sound recordings and images from David Brose's fieldwork, tapes for a prospective folk music radio show, and a video labeled “First Midwest Talent Search.”

IV. 1995-1996: Iowa Sesquicentennial Folklife Festival and Festival of Iowa Folklife

This largest portion of the Program's records measures roughly 18 c.f., and documents both pre-festival and festival fieldwork conducted for the 1996 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. The “Iowa--Community Style” Program was held in Washington, D.C., June 26-30 and July 3-7, and restaged in Des Moines, August 22-25. Subseries of project records include: administrative files, research and fieldwork manuscript files, sound recordings from field research and the Festival of Iowa Folklife, and graphic images and video recordings from 1995 and 1996 festival research. This collection contains original versions of documentation for the Iowa staging of the festival (color slides, black-and-white negatives and contact sheets, and sound recordings of stage presentations), and except for Saltzman's originals, only copies of the Smithsonian's pre-festival and festival documentation (audio, video, and some color slide and black-and-white contact sheets). Most of the original pre-festival and festival fieldwork documentation is housed at the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

More than 60 fieldworkers documented Iowa traditions, including: African-American gospel, Mennonite gospel, Meskwaki flute music, Mexican ballad-singing, and Old-Time string band music; Meskwaki, Italian-American, Czech-American, and German-American dance and dance-band traditions; auctioneer and square dance calling; Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Jewish, Hmong, Laotian, Greek, Czech, Meskwaki, Mexican, and Amana foodways; quilting, rug crocheting, Hmong story cloth embroidery and appliqué, quinceañera dollmaking, Meskwaki beadwork and fingerweaving, and Czech egg decorating; decoy and figure carving, and decorative scroll saw work; tinsmithing, ornamental wrought iron working, tool and die making, and industrial pattern making at John Deere; and commercial fishing and net making, towboat piloting, cattle and hog raising, row crop farming, volunteer fire fighting, trucking, and insurance sales techniques.

Iowa Folklife Festival Coordinator Rachelle Saltzman, funded by 1995-1997 National Endowment for the Arts grants to the Iowa Arts Council, co-curated the Festival of Iowa Folklife and the Iowa portion of the Festival of American Folklife with Catherine Hiebert Kerst. They organized Iowa program festival catalog articles and prepared exhibit labels for festival signage. Saltzman also supervised the production of an Iowa Folklife Festival cookbook, Iowa Cooking--Community Style, edited by Catherine Hiebert Kerst and Beverly Simons. She scheduled 135 participants for the 10 days of the Smithsonian festival, over 300 participants for the Iowa event, and 15 presenters, into 7 to 8 sessions per day for each festival. Attendance at the Festival of American Folklife was 1.2 million and at the Festival of Iowa Folklife, over 80,000.

Subseries for this portion of the collection include administrative files, research and fieldwork manuscript files, sound recordings, and graphic images and videotapes.

V. 1997: Iowa Folklife Directory

Supported by a grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Community Folklife Program and administered by the Fund for Folk Culture, the Iowa Folklife Resource Directory grew from the Sesquicentennial Folklife Survey and the existing Arts Council folklife database. Indexed by individual, group, ethnicity, and county, it listed 274 traditional practitioners; ethnic museums and cultural organizations; and researchers and consultants. Project records include all response forms from those in the directory, which provide such information as names, contact information, genres, ethnicity, and art forms.

Copies of the Directory were distributed to the individuals, groups, and organizations identified as well as to schools, libraries, museums, the media, booking agencies, the Iowa Humanities Council, regional and county arts councils, Division of Tourism sites, and individuals who requested the guide. It was also included in the folklife curriculum kit, Iowa Folklife: Our People, Communities, and Traditions published in 1997. The Iowa Arts Council's database continues to be updated and information made available for online rosters and directories, to enable diverse organizations to identify folk artists for folklife programming, education, festivals, workshops, community arts forums, and occupational training. The folk and traditional arts roster may be found through the Iowa Arts Council website:

VI. 1997-2000: National Endowment for the Arts Network and Mentoring

Aimed at linking Iowa's traditional artists, ethnic museums and associations, and community scholars, this National Endowment for the Arts-funded project provided technical assistance to organizations planning to present folk artists and explore folklife topics. It resulted in the formation of the Iowa Ethnic Heritage Association to promote a variety of like-minded programs and a network among cultural heritage associations, folk artists, and community scholars.

Two Iowa Folklife Institutes showcased folk artists at Tourism and Diversity conferences, provided Folk Arts in Education [FAIE] activities for teachers, trained teachers and community scholars in folklife documentation and presentation, and advised artists regarding marketing and public relations. The project also provided seed funding and technical assistance for presenting folk arts at a range of venues, including local arts agencies, the state English as a Second Language conference, the state diversity conference, the state tourism conference, an annual African-American cultural event, and ethnic association events. Records subseries include: administrative files; the African-American Summer Internship and Community Tour in 1998; the 1997 Ethnic Tours project; the 1997-2001 Iowa Folklife institutes; and Tourism and Diversity conferences.

A. Administrative Files : These records include the grant proposal and supporting documents.

B. African American Summer Internship and Community Tour, 1998 : The Network project funded a folklife intern to document African American traditions in Des Moines, and offered a community tour based on that fieldwork. The tour featured a gospel choir, traditional foodways, and community organizations. Project records include administrative materials, field documentation by Sophia Douglas regarding a dozen sites, and sound recordings of ten key people associated with them.

C. Ethnic Tours, 1997 : Project records include sound recording cassettes, black-and-white photography and color slides, field notes, sound recording and photo logs, data forms, and release forms. With American Folklore Society Internship support, this project funded fieldwork by folklorist Erin Roth in Des Moines' Italian, Southeast Asian, and Latino neighborhoods that played a critical role in the settlement of each group in Iowa and continue to provide cultural continuity for community members. Community members helped develop three-hour tours of the significant occupational and spiritual sites, restaurants, and ethnic markets for each of the groups involved.

D. Iowa Folklife Institutes, 1997-2001 : Records include administrative and programming information for this series of folklife educational workshops and conferences that were held as independent events in conjunction with Iowa Heritage Expo, and in collaboration with the 2001 Festival of Iowa Folklife in Waterloo. Funding was provided over the years by the NEA Networking and Mentoring grant, the NEA and Fund for Folk Culture “Iowa Traditions in Transition” grants, and via a national partnership with Cultural Arts for Teachers and Students (CARTS) and New York's City Lore.

E. Tourism and Diversity Conferences : Records include administrative files, program information, and tour information. An NEA folk arts grant provided funding and technical assistance to support folklife programming, and ethnic neighborhood tour programming information, at the Iowa Tourism and Diversity Conferences from 1997 to 1999.

VII. 1998-2000: Iowa Traditions in Transition (ITT)

Records subseries include: administrative files, fieldwork files, fieldwork sound recordings and photographs, public programs, Saltzman's research files and sound recordings, and the 1999 Muscatine High School ESL class's field documentation.

Funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fund for Folk Culture, the Iowa Traditions in Transition project surveyed the folklife of Iowa's refugee and immigrant communities and presented those traditions in public programs in libraries in the areas where most newcomers reside: Sioux City, Storm Lake, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Marshalltown-Tama-Toledo, Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, West Branch and West Liberty near Iowa City, and Davenport-Muscatine. Four contract folklorists (Erin Roth, Bill Lockwood, Tim Evans, and Cindy Kerchmar) worked in these communities to survey and document folk and traditional art forms of refugees and immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, and the Sudan.

Project Director Saltzman and the contract folklorists worked closely with ESL teachers (one of the points of continued American contact for new refugees), librarians, and community scholars to conduct this survey. With the help of Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services staff (many of whom are refugees and immigrants from the designated groups) and ESL teachers, Saltzman identified and prepared community scholars for work as apprentice fieldworkers in collaboration with the contract folklorists.

Saltzman and, later, folklorist and IAC folklife programmer Karen Heege then worked with community scholars, librarians, and other consultants to organize culturally appropriate programming and projects within their communities. Performances and demonstrations held in Sioux City, Storm Lake, Des Moines, Marshalltown, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, West Liberty, Davenport, and elsewhere featured traditions such as Iraqi oud making and playing, Guatemalan pupusa making and eating, Bosnian weaving and lace crocheting, Vietnamese dragon dancing, Nuer hair braiding, Mexican matachines dancing, and Lao storytelling.

VIII. 2001: Festival of Iowa Folklife: Cultural Crossroads

Records include administrative files, sound recording cassettes of performances, and newsclippings. Held in Waterloo, Iowa, this event featured 150 traditional artists from a variety of Iowa's cultural groups, ranging from long-time residents to newer refugees. It included a special children's area and children's day performances, and an educators' institute with educational materials. This event overlapped with the Folklife Institute (see above) and the Upper Midwest Traditional Arts Touring Project: Global Sounds, Heartland Beats (see Series IX: Subseries A).

IX. 2000-2004: Multi-State Projects in the Midwest

A. Upper Midwest Traditional Arts Touring Project: Global Sounds, Heartland Beats (1998-2001) : Records include administrative files, artist biographies and promotional kits, and information about various presenting venues. Iowa took the lead in this collaboration between Arts Midwest (Regional Arts Organization [RAO]) and seven Midwestern states (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). Folklorist Riki Saltzman wrote grants and coordinated the project from the beginning, until Arts Midwest took on a more comprehensive administrative role, first with Vickie Hutter and then with Ken Carlson. Originally proposed as a three-year Midwest Folk Arts Festival Tour involving nine states and 50 artists, National Endowment for the Arts funding could only support the involvement of seven states and fourteen performing artist groups and individuals. Seven performers did the run-outs to seven states over one year with the seven alternates sometimes filling in. All fourteen entities as well as the fourteen presenting sites received training at two Midwest Booking Conferences; this part of the project was linked to a national project spearheaded by the Southern Arts Federation (RAO for that region of the U.S.). Ongoing annual gatherings of Upper Midwest folklorists have resulted, sometimes meeting with Mid America Arts Alliance (Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas) and Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF).

B. Missouri River Folklife Project--Survey and Grants : Records include administrative papers, grant proposals, meeting notes, and some fieldwork files. Spearheaded by the University of Missouri folk arts program, this project involved states along the Missouri River, from Montana to Missouri (Kansas dropped out after early involvement). Sandy Rikoon wrote the first National Endowment for the Arts grant, which funded preliminary research into Missouri River traditions and ethnic groups. A second year of funding was proposed but not approved. Iowa Arts Council took the lead in applying to a National Park Service special grant program in honor of the Lewis and Clark Expedition for a multi-state traveling exhibit and series of folk arts programs. The group received an award for partial funding, but declined the grant because it was too little.

C. Tri-State Festivals, 2000-2004 : Records include administrative files, grant proposals, schedules, and meeting notes. Funded in part by an NEA grant submitted by the Minnesota Arts Board, these folklife festivals involved Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and focused on multicultural dance and related music traditions.

X. 2006: Iowa Folklife Education Guide: Iowa Folklife: Our People, Communities, and Traditions. Online at:

Collection records consist of the learning guide, which attempts to extend the reach of the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife, the Iowa Folklife Festival, and project materials to the next generation of Iowans. It encourages young people to know about, understand, and find their own connections to cultural traditions nurtured in the state by previous generations. Contents include:

  • Lesson plans for teachers, arranged in sections by subject matter, that state objectives, present background information, describe conceptual and hands-on activities, and provide handouts. Adaptations for middle/junior and high school levels are suggested.
  • An Iowa Folk and Traditional Arts Roster produced by the Iowa Arts Council that lists musicians, folk artists, and cultural specialists available for classroom, senior center, library, and museum programming.
  • Iowa Roots that features stories, music, and talk with traditional artists from a variety of ethnic, geographic, occupational, and religious groups found in Iowa.
  • Two videotapes for classroom viewing to supplement lessons:
    • Iowa Folks and Folklife is a 56-minute documentary about the festivals and a sampler of Iowa traditions, produced and broadcast by Iowa Public Television.
    • Profiles consists of four segments on aspects of Iowa's cultural traditions and includes footage from the festivals in Washington, D.C., and Des Moines, from RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), Decorah's Nordic Fest, and the Sidney Rodeo, and on location in Dubuque, Villisca, Plainfield, and Waterloo.
  • Iowa State Fare: Music from the Heartland, a compact disc (CD) produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings that features nine Iowa groups performing gospel, blues, country, polka, string music, quartet singing, Meskwaki songs, Latino corridos, or Scandinavian music.
  • Inherit Iowa, a senior citizen center activity guide.