We're excited to introduce the newest members of our board who have doubled both its size and capacity in a short time. They are Bryan French of Duluth Folk School, Kerri Hamos of Folk School Fairbanks, Scott Hayden of Adirondack Folk School, Ryan Sartor, the new Treasurer of the board, Kirsten Skoglund of Marine Mills Folk School, and Terri Van Orman of Folklore Village.
Bryan French is the Director and Co-Founder of the Duluth Folk School. He brings a diverse skill set to the table, from sustainability in higher education, to musical theater, to human resources management. Bryan has been a professional photographer, an adventure guide and a naturalist.
The Duluth Folk School, founded in 2016, offers a wide range of classes, including traditional skills, arts, and a variety of craft disciplines. Located at the western tip of Lake Superior, the Duluth Folk School is located in the middle of the city, and is on the edge of the great North Woods.
I am the Program Director at The Folk School in Fairbanks, AK, and I have held this position for almost 4 years. I have three kids, ages 13-19, and have spent most of two decades as a homeschool parent. We have lived in Alaska since 2010, and in between raising kids and working for The Folk School, I enjoy camping and hiking, knitting, reading, and hanging out with our dogs.
The Folk School in Fairbanks had its beginnings in 2007, and slowly grew from one summer program into a year-round school. We offer classes and programs for all ages in a variety of disciplines, including art and craft, outdoor skills, woodworking, sciences, cooking and DIY. We value the utilization of materials that are readily available in the local boreal forest, and seek to promote stewardship of our surroundings through education and connection to the interior Alaska landscape. We strive to cultivate creativity and sense of accomplishment while developing skills in a community of lifelong learners.
I’m the Executive Director of the Adirondack Folk School. I am an Eagle Scout who grew up in the Bangor, Maine area. I enlisted in the US Army upon graduating high school and went to college on the GI Bill. Prior to 2016 when I joined the Adirondack Folk School, I served as an executive for the Boy Scouts Upstate New York area for over 13 years. My wife Cristina and I have 2 amazing kids, Lucas and Olivia, a 3rd Grader and a Kindergartner who keep us on our toes with their many activities and sports. Besides spending time with my family, I enjoy hiking, reading, cooking and volunteering in causes I believe in deeply.
The Adirondack Folk School, (AFS) was founded in 2010 by Jim Mandle in conjunction with a dedicated group of community leaders and volunteers to bring something special to the Lake Luzerne community. Our school is nestled in the lower foothills of the Southern Adirondacks along the Hudson River. The Adirondack Folk School celebrates and preserves the culture and heritage of the Adirondacks and promotes creativity and self-reliance by teaching the arts, crafts and traditions that define our legendary region. AFS is made up of local artisans, crafts people, and volunteers, offering a non-competitive education experience, focusing on the student. The beauty and natural abundance of this environment influenced the skilled artisans that created the pack basket, twig furniture, birch bark containers, the Adirondack chair, the guide boat, and the Adirondack lean-to. These are the home furnishings, boats, and decor still found in cabins, lodges, and homes today throughout the region which have helped create the unique “Adirondack Style.”
My goal in joining the FEAA board is to help to promote and publicize our wonderful folk school movement. I want to help connect as many people with the thousands of unique classes being carried out every year in our 90+ schools throughout the country. We offer a unique opportunity for anyone who wants to learn something or make something for the pure joy of learning with expert artisans in dozens of craft areas. It is my belief that there are hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country who would benefit from our programs and that something special our schools have to offer.
After growing up in Chapel Hill, NC, Ryan used the combination of volunteering, school and travel to see more than 30 countries, work with small groups all over the world, and then live and work in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Since 2011, Ryan has been a bookkeeper and stay-at-home dad in Berea, KY, a place strongly connected to the Folk School movement. He's been actively involved on numerous boards at local levels and an active member of the Wilderness Education Association in the past, and he looks forward to the good that this movement can, and will, do in the midst of many local communities across the globe.
Kirsten lives in Minnesota with her dog Joy and cat Buddy and LOVES TO KNIT! “I LOVE people. I love to learn their story, learn about their dreams, and meet them where they are. I love to work hard to help them meet or surpass their goals. I love problem solving and thinking outside the box. I love helping people become the best version of themselves.”
Kirsten has been a lifelong learner, focusing on everything fiber arts. After a career in Community Mental Health, and Human Resources, in 2009 she started a successful retail shop selling yarn, fiber and gifts with her sister. The shop was open for 10 years. She taught many different classes while working within the fiber community. She was responsible for all aspects of her business, marketing, staffing and finances.
Kirsten has served in many volunteer roles in her community. Past roles include local School Board Member for 10 years, Allina Health System Board Member for 13 years, Community Environmental Committee, 5 years. Kirsten was the founder of the Mahtomedi Area Farmers Market, creating a gathering place for farmers, nonprofits and community members.
Building community is extremely important to her, in both professional and volunteer positions. Now her involvement is Marine Mills Folk School continues to extend her love of community building while being encouraged to learn new things every day.
My name is Terri Van Orman, and I am the Executive Director of Folklore Village. We conduct a variety of folk educational events throughout the year, including weekend-long, themed learning experiences, and six sessions of our new Folk School. I have been involved in folk education since the 1990's when I started my own grass-roots weaving workshops at the Ozark Folk Center. Thinking it would be so much more fun to have other folk artist workshops going on at the same time, I helped institute the "Ozark Folk School" which flowered into 20+ folk arts workshops in music and crafts. After becoming the Director of Crafts Programming there, I expanded the original week-long experience into an all-year extension. Moving on from the Folk Center, in 2009, I became Executive Director of the Arkansas Craft School, again managing folk arts education experiences year-round. I have served on the boards of the Arkansas Craft Guild, and the Arkansas Arts Council, and as a panelist for the Wisconsin Arts Board. I contracted for consultation work on a proposal for a Maryland Folklife Center, and have taught about craft at the college-level. My writing about craft has been published by both Ceramics Monthly and Handwoven magazines; and my master's thesis focused on the craft and music traditions of Mountain View, Arkansas.
Folklore Village, an arts and culture organization preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021, has actually been in existence since 1947, when our founder, Jane Farwell instituted the Festival of Christmas and Midwinter Traditions, now in its 73rd year - which will be presented virtually for the first time this year due to the pandemic. Our mission statement is "to provide opportunities for individuals and communities to honor, experience, and support ethnic and traditional folklife." We do that through concerts, barn dances, special "socials" such as a Maypole dance or a Sankta Lucia day, children's field trip programming, and primarily through adult educational experiences in folk dance, folk music, foodways, and craft, including our latest folk school initiative. We are located on 94 acres - our founder's original family farm, in the beautiful Driftless region of Southwestern Wisconsin. Our infrastructure is composed of our main activity center, Farwell Hall, the late 1800's Farwell family farmhouse, the 1882 Plum Grove Chapel, the 1893 Wakefield Schoolhouse, a couple of rustic bunkhouses for student lodging, various outbuildings, and surrounding gardens and grounds. We also manage about 65 acres of restored prairie land. We serve communities extending from the hyper-local, to the regional, national, and even international. Our website is www.folklorevillage org.
In this Issue -
Permission to Dance
Life.School.House in Nova Scotia demonstrates how we “make the road by walking.”
Four years ago, Jennifer DeCoste, was feeling unconnected in her community of Fall River, Nova Scotia and in need of a “village.” She was co-parenting 2 young children, interacting with a wonderful group of friends/parents, but still feeling a gap between her personal world and a more “connected” network of service agencies, libraries, small businesses, and other community organizations.
Jenn describes Nova Scotia as a region with a century-old “mindset of scarcity,” the “have-not” province of Canada, and yet with remarkable, long-standing demonstrations of resourcefulness, connection, and a subtle “spirit of knowing.” As an experienced organizer, Jenn sat with this frustration long enough and decided to gather some friends for informal conversation. It didn’t take long from their sharing and brain-storming to decide to take action.
With an extended family in Antigonish, which has a remarkable piece of people’s education history, Jenn was vaguely familiar with the Antigonish movement of the 1920s and 30s - her grandfather was a prominent leader in it, though she never met him (he died when her mother was young). So she had heard about folk schools. Despite knowing little about what they were, the group decided to start one.
They had the instinct to “keep it simple,” and so, invited folks to attend an evening 101 workshop on fermentation and making kefir. Three people showed up. They were elated - and most importantly, felt validated. 60 more workshops followed that year. They happened in people’s homes, organized and led by volunteers, and using mostly donated materials.
Interestingly, Jenn had no interest in being a teacher. But she kept on gathering acquaintances into conversations, staying focused on their original intent - to make connections. They wanted to hear each other, to tell their stories, to discover their common identity, language and experience. Making kefir was secondary. This central premise provided the foundation for their unique form of folk school. At the center then, they put a “connector,” and called her the Host.
They found “teachers” too in the traditional sense - all local people who brought a variety of practical skills, which attracted people probably not thinking consciously about “connecting.”
The role of the Host grew quickly. Jenn was partly inspired by her previous experience with the Art of Hosting, an international community which uses elements of “circle practice,” also found in the non-hierarchal practices of “World Café.”
Her team developed these components for the Host role:
As Jenn and her team gained experience, they continually reflected and deepened the ideas behind their approach. A fundamental starting point for Life.School.House connecting is to learn about personal and community need. She particularly talks about grassroots-based elements of “change-making,” also kin to Circle Practices. “We want to support the development of different patterns of thinking that lead to more creative living … to free ourselves from commercial and corporate systems we are addicted to … To find our own power and create our own opportunities, through a quiet, peaceful movement. Community conversations are the work of what we’re doing. At the same time, we are on the constant lookout for not getting to “institutionalized” or locked into a particular way or structure.”
Throughout their work, there are 2 principles: practicality, that is learning topics and ways of organizing are keys to putting people in charge to better take care of their needs. And of course, connection. Together, they create the flexibility and creativity that gives participants “permission to dance.”
And what about N.F.S. Grundtvig? “I never heard of him,” says Jenn. “I barely knew about what a folk school was. I suppose there was this “epigenetic connection” we had here in Antigonish (that we’re learning more and more about).” She read (through FEAA’s journal Option) about Alex Sims’ folk school work in Ontario in the mid-twentieth Century and resonated with the people struggles his networks were striving to provide learning for. She also drew inspiration from the Trade School International.
In its second year, Life.School.House trained and supported a wider team of Hosts, with over 500 people participating. Now in their third year, Jenn is working with start-up teams in British Columbia, Alberta, and 2 sites in Ontario.
This past summer, Jenn was awarded a prestigious “Ashoka Changemakers Fellowship” that will support her in her work and share its unique approach around the world. In its own original way, LifeSchoolHouse reflects a path familiar to the best of folk and people’s schools for almost 2 centuries. It is rooted in a local community - and in this case perhaps watered by the “spirit” of the Antigonish Movement - and springing from a new time, providing fresh innovation to meet the needs of age old challenges.
The cabins are finished! And they are extremely popular with travelers – they have both been booked every weekend and most weekdays since we opened them in July. Most of our visitors have been folks from major cities within a day’s drive, just wishing to get away from the confinement and even the unrest that has been our constant companion all summer. We are happy that we can offer such a beautiful, peaceful place for people to recharge.
Our five college students that rented our guest house for the summer terms asked last month if we would allow them to stay on through the fall term. The groups that had booked the guest house for reunions and meetings in the fall had all canceled, so having the students stay a few more months helpful. They are all very thankful to have a safe haven with good Wi-Fi where they can stay healthy and participate in their online classes.
This month and into the fall, we’re going to be working with friends to build a “sacred grove” on the farm, planting trees and building an arbor-covered path along the creek and through one of our pastures, ending at Bri’s Chapel. We hope that the grove will be a blessing to all who wander through it, and we can’t wait to get started on it.
We had hoped to begin marketing our “Learning for Life” 10-week session for young adults to begin in January 2021, but we’re not sure that’s a good idea right now. Kentucky’s public schools were ordered to be solely virtual until at least the end of September, and it’s probable that our governor will extend that even further. Residential colleges are meeting at drastically reduced capacities and most institutions have opted for online classes this semester. At the moment, we’re watching and waiting to see what will be the right choice for us.
It is exciting to us that several of our Folk School Alliance member institutions have begun offering in-person classes again, and that it is going well for them! We love learning about the virtual offerings our FSA colleagues have been doing as well, but we are definitely (along with all the other folk educators we know!) committed to the in-person experience as a top priority. We are certain that we will need the “folk” kind of education more than ever as we emerge from the current pandemic.
We shall overcome! We will do it together, and it will be amazing.
Jennifer Rose Escobar
Happiness Hills Farm
For many years now, visitors to the Folk Education Association of America’s homepage have been greeted with the above statement. The FEAA commitment to this statement over the years has remained strong; however, associated action has waxed and waned as the organization’s capacities have also ridden the waves of our times and places. From 2002 to 2013, the FEAA experienced a period of dormancy. Beginning in 2014, however, collaborative efforts brought the organization back into a state of active contribution. Today, we as a volunteer-run 501(c)(3) continue our work in identifying, supporting, and facilitating folk education. In 2014, the FEAA launched the Folk School Alliance project, identifying and promoting a new wave of folk school founding and development through an online folk school network listing and eNewsletter. In 2017, through grant funding, the FEAA partnered in the implementation of “The Folk School Alliance Community of Practice: Creating Spaces for Social Transformation” project. In 2018, the FEAA engaged in a grant-funded Community-Based Participatory Action Research project based in southwestern Washington State, “Leading from the Roots,” which brought an interethnic, multiracial group of community craftspeople and university researchers together to seek solutions to regional crises. All of these activities continue today, and in the 2020-2021 year, the FEAA will have the opportunity to expand the Leading from the Roots project to many folk schools across the United States. We celebrate these accomplishments and the impact we are having within the folk school community.
As our capacity has grown, so has our reach and our ability to impact social change; however, we do not believe we have done enough, particularly concerning inclusion and promotion of BIPOC voices within the folk education movement. The FEAA and its projects have been and continue to be primarily made up of Euro-American folk. North America today is characterized by communities of immense diversity, and folk education tenets charge educators to dig deeply into the culture, history, language, and temporal lives of the communities where they serve. Black Lives Matter! We can and will do better! As we move into the next phase of our work through the Leading from the Roots project and other FEAA projects, we challenge ourselves and those we currently support to expand the reach of our work, include all those that reside and work within our communities, and to make our centers of folk schooling and folk education ones where interethnic anti-racist allegiances may be cultivated and sustained.
More about the 2020-2021 Leading from the Roots Participatory Action Research project…
The purpose of the proposed Participatory Action Research study is to explore the stories and impacts of U.S. based folk schools as they navigate school and community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and to explore the relationship between folk school values, civic engagement, and civic health.
Research objectives will be assessed through the following questions…
The Folk School Alliance Community of Practice (FSA CoP) will soon reach its two-year anniversary. In the spring of 2018, the Folk Education Association of America, Fielding Graduate University alumni and a student, and several folk school administrators formalized methods of interaction for folk school leaders. Funding provided through a Fielding Graduate University Inclusion Council grant allowed the above partners to facilitate meetings and provide online connection platforms. Over the last two years:
…countless interactions and supportive conversations have made a difference in advancing the work of folk school administrators and educators.
Through these Folk School Alliance Community of Practice (CoP) activities the Folk Education Association of America and its partners have made significant gains toward a strategic plan priority; “to build a cohesive and collaborative network of Folk Schools which will support new school development and sustainability of existing schools.”
Folk school founders, administrators, and staff make up the membership of the CoP. Through the multiple asynchronous and synchronous communication methods, these folk school leaders have found comradery and support along with a significant pool of problem-solving experience and resources. Where once they may have felt alone when asked, “What’s a folk school?” they now have a group where the focus becomes, not what are you, but what do you do and how do you do it. Topics posed and discussed within this community have spanned from logistical concerns such as securing insurance to those addressing inclusion and barrier reduction.
Funding and Organizational Development
Categories of opportunities for Folk Schools (Arts, Economics, Historic Preservation, Social Cohesion, Community Development, Agriculture, Creative Placemaking, Mental Health Promotion, Rural Community Development, Environmental Educ, Human Agency & Resilience, Outdoor engagement, etc.)
Folk School Models
Outreach and Marketing
External Organizations of Interest
The past several months have been an emotional (and financial) roller coaster for us here at Happiness Hills! I don’t even know where to begin this journal entry – maybe with the interesting year-long legal journey through the bureaucracy of our county codes department, or maybe with the amazing folk education summit in Denmark last fall, or maybe with the emotional and spiritual struggle our family has had with the decisions we need to make (and re-make) as we go through the process of establishing Happiness Hills Folk School. I think I’ll save the physical and fiscal stuff for a later edition and write instead about the philosophical journey we’ve found ourselves on these past few months.
Do we really want to build a folk school? That’s the question that has been on all our minds as we face the future. Our area needs a folk school. Our state needs a folk school. Heck, our world needs more folk schools… but are we the ones to do it? Is this farm the place to build it? The answers to those questions have varied by the day, and sometimes by the hour. Like with any great undertaking, it isn’t easy, and it isn’t smooth. With something this important, it’s worth being sure; worth being right (at least as “right” as we know how), from the start.
It’s easy for our family to think about hosting classes in craft and sustainability for adults and arts programs for kids. We know how to do those things. We know lots of people who know how to do those things. But the Folk Education Summit in Denmark last September challenged me to dig deeper than just what’s easy. I know from experience as a mom of older teens, and from working with high school and college students in dance programs, that young adults are having a harder and harder time discovering who they are and what path they want to travel. I was absolutely inspired by the young adults I met on the tours of several folkehøjskoler during the Summit, and spent a lot of time thinking about how we might try to be more like the Danish folk high schools, which focus on offering learning experiences in a range of subjects, in a residential environment for a period of about three months, geared towards young adults. When I got home from the Summit, we talked about that as a family. We decided to continue working toward offering weekend sessions in the arts and crafts during the fall and summer, and start laying the foundation for a yearly residential session during the months of January, February and March.
The Great Pause of 2020 has given us additional time to think about all of this, and to move steadily ahead with our construction projects of two log cabins and two tiny bunkhouses. While it is worrisome to have no income, and no idea when tourism will open back up, we are counting our blessings – we’re in a rural area with plenty of space, and we’re all in good health. When Berea College closed suddenly in early March, we had space to allow a student and a recent graduate to stay with us. Next week, five more students will be moving in to stay for the summer. It occurred to me a couple of days ago that, with our teens plus the 7 young adults that will be here this summer, plus the young couple that live in the little stone cabin, plus the five or six young adults that store their landscaping equipment here, we suddenly have the population we have been talking about having! What a wonderful opportunity to see how it feels to have a group of 15 or 20 young adults around for three months. Even though they’re not here for the express purpose of “folk school,” that continues to be our purpose, and hopefully when they look back at the experience, they’ll remember that they were in a place where they felt enlightened and enlivened, and where they know they’ll always “belong.”
Jennifer Rose Escobar
Happiness Hills Folk School
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