Traditional Arts Indiana thriving in new home at IU's Mathers Museum

  • March 12, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Traditional Arts Indiana -- the state’s traditional arts program, housed at Indiana University Bloomington -- has officially moved from the College of Arts and Sciences to its new space in the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

The organization has long collaborated with the Mathers Museum, which maintains a special focus on the peoples and cultures of Indiana within a global context. Traditional Arts Indiana, a campus-wide unit administered within the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, was founded in 1998 to expand public awareness of Indiana’s traditional arts practices.

Before its move to the museum, Traditional Arts Indiana was housed in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Traditional Arts Indiana’s status as an IU partnership with the Indiana Arts Commission and as the state’s official traditional arts program remains unchanged.

“Almost every state has a traditional folk art program -- many are part of the state’s arts council,” said Jon Kay, director of Traditional Arts Indiana and a 2013 Archie Green Fellow, an honor from the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center. “Less common is for such a folk arts program to be housed on a university campus with access to so many interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities and technological resources.”

Kay’s interest in sharing the folk arts through technology has made Indiana an innovator in the field of folk art.

In addition to creating a popular webinar series that covers such topics as memory and aging, how to mount an exhibit and social media for artists, Traditional Arts Indiana was the first exhibitor in the Wells Library’s Scholar’s Commons in the fall, sharing the work of artisans from across the state in an interactive display called Hoosier Handmade. In the summer of 2012, IU was invited to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, hosting stages with both Indiana bluegrass musicians and demonstrations with instrument builders, and curating two interactive kiosks highlighting the traditional arts and music from across Indiana.

“Traditional Arts Indiana is a leading public humanities organization in the United States,” said Jason Jackson, director of the Mathers Museum. “Jon Kay has pioneered strategies that are now being emulated nationwide. Many of these innovations -- such as hosting humanities webinars and placing low-cost traveling exhibitions in almost every Indiana county -- are perfectly aligned with the goals identified in the museum's and the campus' strategic plans.”

The organization presents many opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to gain hands-on experience with the research and creation of exhibits, interviewing artists across the state and coming up with innovative ways to share the work with a wider audience using online resources.

“On top of the many other benefits that will flow from joining our efforts, I am enthusiastic about the many new ways that we will be able to involve students in a research and public programs endeavor that impacts every county in the state while also enriching life on the IU Bloomington campus," Jackson said.

Jackson said the alignment with Mathers will enhance connectedness throughout the state, enabling IU to serve in more and broader ways. “I am grateful for the chance to partner more closely with the Indiana Arts Commission in advancing the goals that it shares not only with Traditional Arts Indiana and the museum, but with the university and the state as a whole.”

Traditional Arts Indiana was honored with the 2013 Governor’s Arts Award and received a fellowship from the Library of Congress to research the occupational traditions of park rangers.

Currently, the organization is working on "Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation," a project that has been endorsed by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission as a “Legacy Project” supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibit will consist of 14 panels that profile a variety of artists whose traditional arts and crafts represent threads of Indiana’s historical narrative.

Traditional Arts Indiana

A partnership between Indiana University and the Indiana Arts Commission, Traditional Arts Indiana serves as the state’s only official traditional arts support and development program. It promotes Indiana’s traditional culture through strategic documentation of traditional arts, innovative public programming and exemplary interpretation of the state’s folklife resources. Indiana Folk Arts will travel to state parks, public libraries, festivals and select events that commemorate the state’s bicentennial.

Mathers Museum

Created in 1963, the Mathers Museum is Indiana University’s museum of world cultures. Caring for an outstanding collection of objects and images from around the world, the museum is a campus and community hub fostering research in the social sciences and humanities. It translates the research of campus faculty, students and associated researchers into exhibitions and programs serving diverse audiences.

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Jason Jackson

Jason Jackson

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Judy Kirk

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