Making It Better - Exhibit Themes

Imagine you are a master drum maker for your community. It is your job to create instruments that are sturdy, functional, and sound good. You are considered a master because of your skill, knowledge, and deep respect of your traditions. You are keenly aware that you are one in a long line of artisans. You also know that there are some things you simply cannot change like the way a particular drum is supposed to sound. That would impact all the other traditions, like songs and dances, which depend on the excellence of your drum. Yet, your drums are not just copies, or replicas, of what everyone else before you has made. They are distinctly yours. Matthew Smith, a traditional drum-maker from eastern Pennsylvania understands this role completely.

He sums it up: "You can't change the drum too drastically, otherwise you're going to change the sound of the music and that's not what you are trying to do. You as an artist are just putting your own signature on it... just trying to make it better."

This exhibition explores five basic ways that folk artists are "making it better": Shaping Community, Living Creatively in Your World, Practicing Spirituality, Nurturing Well-Being and Health, and Creating Social Change and Awareness.

We hope you will explore these five categories. Please keep in mind that although every artist is categorized under one particular theme, they all address multiple themes. Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun's embroidery is as much about shaping community as it is about drawing on the resources in her environment. Frito Bastien's paintings reflect the social and political experiences of his native Haiti as much as they reinforce spiritual beliefs and shape cultural identity. David Castano's carvings reflect the local ecology of his woodland home as much as they help a community heal from a mining disaster.


Practicing Spirituality

Like the illuminations around a page of sacred text, art surrounds all spiritual practice. We use artistic traditions to create sacred space, to express our beliefs, and to communicate with the divine.

How do artistic traditions enhance your spiritual practice?

Charles Culleiton - Sawdust Carpets
Temujin Ekunfeo - Yoruba Sacred Beadwork
Jerry Jumba - Carpatho-Rus' and East Slovak Secular and Sacred Song
Michael Kapeluck - Byzantine Iconography
Susan Leviton - Jewish Calligraphy and Papercutting
Bill Roberson - Native American Traditional Dance and Crafts
Chamroeun Yin - Cambodian Ritual Clothing


Living Creatively in Your World

We often draw from the local world around us to make beauty in our everyday lives. We also use our creativity and arts to help us adapt when the world around us changes.

Where do traditions create beauty in your world?

Ken Ely - Fieldstone Walls
Jymm Hoffman - Blacksmithing
Tim Schloss - Taxidermy
Ross Shourds - Wooden Decoy Carvings
Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun - Hmong Needlework


Shaping Community

The saying "you are what you eat," holds true for folk arts as well. The traditions and art forms we learn in our cultural communities shape our identity.

What art forms have shaped who you are?

Dosina Blemahdoo - Ghanaian Dressmaker
Antonella DiIanni - Italian Bobbin Lace
The Grkmans - Slovenian Polka Ensemble
Yolanda Lorya - Latuko Beadwork
Diana Meng - Chinese Watercolor
Paulett Simunich – Ukrainian Pysanky


Creating Social Change and Awareness

Artists with their heightened community awareness are often the first to suggest new visions for social change. Traditional arts can be used to draw attention to key issues in a community and open the door for collaborative solutions.

How can you use tradition to create social change?

Frito Bastien - Haitian Painting
Mensura Berberovic- Bosnian Ballads
POSE II - Urban Graffiti Art
Losang Samten - Tibetan Sand Mandalas
Spiral Q - Community Pageantry and Puppetry


Nurturing Well-Being and Health

Folk arts can ensure the health of an individual or aid the well-being of an entire community. Traditional art is a potent tool to channel a community's hopes and good intents. It can also be a powerful line of defense against the effects of change, physical danger, or disaster.

What traditions give you strength?

Victoria Angelo and Marta Sam - Acholi Song and Dance
David Castano - Carved Figures
Brujo de la Mancha - Danza Mexica and Ritual Clay Flutes
Vera Nakonechny - Wedding and Healing Ritual Towels
Natalie Phelps - Square Dance Calling
Tuoc Tran - Vietnamese Funerary Portraits