The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes has been collecting stories and documenting cultural practices from across the Southern Finger Lakes Region for 40 years. The ARTS Council’s first folklife program began in 1983 as the Schuyler County Folk Arts Project, which documented the folklore and folklife of Schuyler County. Three years later, in 1986, The ARTS Council hired its first folklorist, and the Folk Arts Program was created. Over the past four decades, The ARTS Council has been collecting stories and documenting cultural practices from across the Southern Finger Lakes Region. With the help of New York Folklore, The ARTS Council will make its archive available to the public.

In January 2024, The ARTS Council’s Folk Arts Program had the pleasure of welcoming archivist Andy Kolovos from  Vermont Folklife to assess our collection. During his two-day visit, Kolovos sat down with our Folk Arts Coordinator, T.C. Owens, and Program Assistant and Master of Information and Library Science candidate from the University at Buffalo, Victoria Scott, to ask questions and develop a plan to preserve and manage the folklife archive.

Archive materials include born-digital files and physical ephemera such as slides, photographs, audio recordings on tapes, and video recordings on compact discs. Each of these materials requires special attention in preservation and eventual digitization. Material subjects range from documentation of the Old Time Fiddler’s Gathering, Tales from Agnes, Cataonk Woodcarvers, Black Gospel music in Elmira and Corning, Italian American textiles, and more recently, projects created through the Community Documentation Workshop Series.

After his visit, Kolovos created a site report outlining his findings and recommendations for archival improvements. In his report, he states that The ARTS Council’s folklife archive is off to a great start and should focus on developing formal protocols for accessioning new materials. He also recommends that the focus moving forward should be on the description, arrangement, and digital preservation of the current collections. This will be done by creating summaries of the current collections, creating unique identifiers, moving physical files into digital formats, rehousing physical materials where needed, and refining collection organization.

Though this process is a preliminary assessment of materials, we hope it will lead to future funding that will help establish a formal folklife archive. Ultimately, the future goals of the archive project are to allow employees and the public to access archival materials easily. We also look forward to curating stories from the archive to share on our Southern Finger Lakes Traditions website.

Thanks to the efforts of New York Folklore for facilitating this opportunity and their continued work in finding funds to support the next steps in this process.

This project is generously funded by the National Historic Publications and Records Commission.

Written by Victoria Scott.

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