The Center for Washington Cultural Traditions Launches us Forward… #FolkForward!
by Maria Abando
On Saturday March 3, the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions made a well-received community debut with its launch celebration, #FolkForward. It was packed with performances, demonstrations, and family-friendly activities. While at first glance it could’ve looked like an international festival, most of the groups that were present live and celebrate their culture right here in Washington. It was eye-opening to see the diversity of cultural traditions that exist in our state, as well as those that are native to this place.
The idea of time was something that wove itself into all of my thoughts that afternoon. I started out thinking about time in a past tense. The party was held at the Impact Hub in the historical Pioneer Square district. Performers in traditional cultural attire sang traditional songs, played traditional instruments, and I myself even attempted to learn traditional Croatian dance.
There were also areas separate from the main stage where folk or traditional art demonstrations were taking place from local culture bearers. You read right – folk art demonstrations. If the words “folk art” don’t throw you in a time machine and transport you a few centuries back, then you’re probably already familiar with that field, like CWCT director Kristin Sullivan, who organized and emceed the afternoon.
But the event was named #FolkForward, a name whose hashtag grabbed a hold of me and launched me back to the present, to a time where “tweeting” isn’t solely a bird’s activity. I was left sitting, in the now, contemplating why I didn’t feel discombobulated from mentally leaping from decade to decade and continent to continent. Instead, I felt full with the new things I had learned:
I learned from the Puget Sound Sumi Artists that the ink used in traditional Japanese sumi painting is made from soot.
I learned from Aggie Burstein from the Olympia Timberland Library that making a zine (a self-made, self-published magazine about anything) isn’t too difficult!
I learned from Abel Rocha that while the lute (Mexican vihuela) was popularized by Mariachi bands, which I associate with fast-paced rhythms, it is beautiful in heart wrenching, sentimental ballads.
I was even taken on a journey – a Tribal Canoe Journey that is – through a video presented by Hweqwidi Hanford McCloud of the Nisqually Indian Tribe, showing the revival and significance of that tradition.
All this new knowledge of old traditions swam around in my mind until they fused together into a realization that understanding each other is timeless. Gaining perspective is timeless. Hearing another persons’ story is timeless.
This idea of timelessness was solidified as I watched young children participate in making a vibrant and fragrant flower mandala (pookolam) with Annie Penta. They crafted their own colorful Nahuas, amate images with Maria Guadalupe H. Casey. They also took delight in Madhubani art activities.
Additionally, the centerpieces on the tables throughout the main room were flourished with colorful decorations that included conversation starters: “What is your favorite traditional food?” “What do you wish people knew about your culture?” “What is your favorite holiday and how do you celebrate it?”
“The things that make us all different are things that, in actuality, make us all similar.”
As I answered these quietly to myself I imagined the diversity of responses people might have, and that while time and location have huge influence on these responses, they are relevant right here, right now, as we had all come together to celebrate and learn from each other. Each response would tell a story that is unique to each individual and their culture. But the fact that we can all answer the same questions highlighted the commonalities that connect us as humans. Regardless of where we come from, we all have food, songs, dances, or art that are meaningful to us in some way. The things that make us all different are things that, in actuality, make us all similar. They make us all human, which is an idea that is timeless.
It is now my belief that together, we need to actively take the legacies of traditional and folk arts, and continue to bring them forward.
(Header image of Kalalaya Academy Bharatanatyam dancers by Linda Hurst, www.lindahurstphotography.com)