What is folklife?

Folklife encompasses the traditional knowledge that we learn by interacting with other people.  These are skills that we learn from our families, friends and folks in our communities.   Our ‘folklife’ includes the social groups that we belong to, our ethnic heritage, and events that we may celebrate such as Thanksgiving, birthdays, Earth Day, dance parties, music jams, etc.    Folklife skills include music, dancing, farming, gardening, storytelling, food preparation, various artistic endeavors, crafts, woodworking, etc. Click on the photos below to open up a larger sized photo gallery.   Click on the “American Folklife” link below to see an overview of “American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures.”

What folklife activities do for you and your community:

  • Help people understand and celebrate their own cultures and the cultures of others.
  • Embody everyday life and values, and are accessible and relevant to all.
  • Connect people across cultural groups, generations, regions and countries.   
  • Build awareness that culture crosses geographic and political boundaries.
  • Build and stabilize community through new friendships, collaboration, sharing of knowledge and listening.
  • Build positive interaction skills, positive personal development, a sense of well being and happiness.
  • Are good food for the brain.
  • Illustrate that culture, place and the natural environment are deeply connected.

Additional Folklife resources can be found here American Folklife

US Congress definition of folklife — used when the American Folklife Center was created

“The term ‘American folklife’ means the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States: familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, regional; expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual, pageantry, handicraft; these expressions are mainly learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and are generally maintained without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction.”

See Public Law 94-201, 1976