Worldfest – the place to locate summer cultural/ethnic festivals in Massachusetts

Massachusetts WorldFest is back, and we want you to participate!

For the second straight year, the MCC and Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) have launched Worldfest, a comprehensive online listing of the rich and diverse array of ethnic and cultural festivals across Massachusetts from June through September. We again plan a summer marketing campaign to drive visitors from across New England to these events.

Worldfest includes festivals large and small, in cities and towns from Boston to the Berkshires, from Cape Ann to Cape Cod. The website includes a search engine that allows visitors to search by region, name of event and/or date.

Worldfest‘s only criteria are that participating festivals represent communities or groups of communities within Massachusetts that share a common ethnic or artistic heritage or way of life. Massachusetts is home to a host of such groups, ranging from longstanding communities from Native America and Europe to newcomers from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Each of these, and many others, showcase vital cultural traditions through their public fairs and festivals, which deserve recognition and support.

If you would like your festival to be included, please submit this form. These listings are provided at no cost.

For more information, please contact John Alzapiedi at MOTT: or 617-973-8509

Surviving Pol Pot and the Power of Art

Daily news of the tribunal proceedings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia are a grim reminder of the atrocities that took the lives of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge. One can only imagine how the testimony of those responsible for afflicting war crimes is affecting those who survived unspeakable conditions.

While the making of art is a life force for the majority of traditional artists I’ve met, it is rarely as dramatically a matter of life and death as it has been for Yary Livan. A Cambodian master ceramicist, Livan, the sole survivor of his generation of artists, trained in traditional Khmer ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Forced to hide his education to survive under the Khmer Rouge, it was ironically his knowledge of traditional wood-burning kilns that saved him from certain starvation.

In 2001, Yary and his wife emigrated to Massachusetts. With support from leaders in the local Cambodian community and the arts education community, Yary was able to set up a studio. In no time, he began producing a surprising amount of work — flower vases, elephant pots, and spirit houses.

Sally Reed, a graphic artist who had befriended Livan, stopped by his studio one day and was overwhelmed by the amount of work he had ready for firing. It seemed to her the production of three or four full-time potters. She wondered, “how could one man do this?”

Yary answered her seriously: “In Pol Pot time, I work like an animal. An animal with fear. Now, I work like an artist. In Pol Pot time, my art spirit was almost dead. Now my art spirit is big, is strong, is on fire!”

You can listen to Yary’s story as told in this audio stop, produced by Acoustiguide for the exhibition.

Put some authenticity into your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

As one might imagine, Kieran Jordan is busy dancing this week and next. For a listing of her upcoming performances, click here. Jordan received an MCC artist fellowship in the Traditional Arts in 2008.

Folk Traditions Flourish in Norway

Successive waves of immigration have always been a source of America’s vitality. Areas with high concentrations of specific ethnic groups often hold rich centers of traditional arts activity. If one were looking into Norwegian American culture, it would make sense to go to the upper Midwest. But I recently discovered a micro-community of people passionate about Norwegian folk dance and music right here in New England. There are regular folk dances where people swirl in elaborate folk costumes. Devotees from Vermont to DC attend summer camps and immerse themselves in springars, gangars, and hallings (traditional dance forms). And surprisingly, many of these individuals were not born into this tradition but rather discovered it as one one might pursue swing dancing, knitting, kayaking, or raising show dogs. A few dancers and fiddlers can claim the cultural heritage passed down to them through their genes, but many devotees of Norwegion folk culture are not of Norwegian heritage.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, work in the fishing industry drew large numbers of Norwegians to the southeastern Massachusetts towns of New Bedford, Fairhaven, and Dartmouth. By the 1930s, New Bedford had a thriving Norwegian community that quickly rose to command the scalloping industry, owning most of the boats and processing plants. Many of these people emigrated from Karmoy, an island off the coast of Bergen. Today, there is a great cultural pride and an enduring sense of national identity among the area’s older generation of Norwegian Americans. However, there seems to be a general concern that the young people aren’t interested in their heritage or in learning traditional skills. Though the Norwegian craft traditions of rosemaling , cutwork embroidery, and knitting can still be found amongst descendants of Norwegian immigrants, the hardanger fiddle tradition – if it ever existed here — has died out. Sadly, many of the old timers passed away without passing on their music.

On a recent vacation, I discovered that, in the home country, Norwegian folk traditions continue to thrive. Maybe it has something to do with the long, dark, cold winters. Or Norway’s geography – the spectacular yet isolating terrain of mountains, valleys and fjords. Whatever it is, folk culture is alive and well in Telemark, Norway. Even in this age of iTunes and Facebook, regional styles of dancing, fiddling, and adornment remain in tact.

Couples dancing to a single fiddler playing a hardanger is a common social activity. And young musicians continue to learn from master players in weekly spelemannslags.

Regional and national competitions called kappleleiks are well attended by dancers, musicians, and singers. Musicians are careful to acknowledge whoever taught them a particular tune. Many of the fiddle tunes have stories associated with them.

Rosemaling (Norwegian rose painting) embellishes wooden surfaces of all kinds — furniture, cabinetry, walls, fiddles.

Rosemaling, in the form of embroidery, adorns clothing as well — even undergarments. Dancers literally wear their cultural pride on their sleeves. The traditional folk costume, known as a bunad, varies from district to district and identifies a dancer’s home region.

The hospitality of Norwegian locals and their generosity in sharing traditions was heartening. Being there reminded me of what led to my becoming a folklorist in the first place.

All photos except first one by Maggie Holtzberg.

Concert footage of “Keepers of Tradition” now on You Tube

Film footage from the October 4 concert at the National Heritage Museum is now posted on MCC’s very own channel on You Tube. You can watch a Scottish bagpiper, Puerto Rican family band, Cambodian dance troupe, Fado singer, auctioneer, and Franco-American fiddle and stepdance. Thanks to Mathew Ferrel for filming and editing the segments. We hope to add footage from our June 7 concert in the near future.