Press Releases

A 30-year collection of Tennessee Folklife archived for future generations

Nashville—The Tennessee Arts Commission has completed archiving 30 years of cultural documentation and records from its Folklife Program, and the collection will be transferred to the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) for preservation and public access. The archiving project is a culmination of the dedicated work of program director, Dr. Robert Cogswell, who will be retiring in December of 2014.

Cogswell began his career with the Tennessee Arts Commission in 1984 and he was recently honored by the American Folklore Society (AFS) with the 2014 Benjamin A. Botkin Award. This honor is given annually to an individual for significant lifetime achievement in public folklore.

Since joining the Tennessee Arts Commission, Cogswell has dedicated a 30-year career to the state’s traditional arts and culture. Through on-going fieldwork, advocacy and program management, he has distinguished himself as one of the country’s longest serving and most influential folklorists in the public sector. The AFS cited one of his nominators as saying, “He has, while maintaining the outspokenness for which he has become famous, forged effective working relationships with other organizations in meeting his goals of documenting, presenting, and preserving the folk traditions of Tennessee. He has been a consistent and active voice at regional and national meetings for the standards of public folklore service.”

Cogswell’s folklife archive represents a rich resource of information and media materials about the state’s folk culture including extensive documentation of folk artists and local traditions from across Tennessee. By donating this unique and invaluable collection to TSLA, the Tennessee Arts Commission is ensuring its future preservation and accessibility. Cogswell worked with archivist Christina Skinker to catalog the program’s 22,000-image photography collection. With help from TSLA, they completed a digital database of over 4,000 of its best images.

In addition to the photography collection, highlights of the archive include: files on Tennessee’s program at the 1986 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife; documents about Tennessee artists who’ve received the National Heritage Fellowship and Tennessee Folklife Heritage Awards; clippings on folk organizations and events statewide; records of folk arts grants awarded by the TAC; diverse audio-visual resources; and research files from dozens of exhibits, publications, and other special projects on Tennessee folklife topics.

At TSLA, the Tennessee Arts Commission’s folklife archives will join the collection created by the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project beginning in the 1970s. Together, these two archives will distinguish TSLA as the premier repository of documentary materials about Tennessee folk culture. They form an unmatched record of the state’s folklife and traditional arts in recent decades, holding great value to researchers and communities alike.

The Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife program will continue to work closely with TSLA in promoting and encouraging the use of the donated collection to expand support for Tennessee folk arts and culture—and looks forward to future collaborative opportunities.

A retrospective of Cogswell’s photography work will be on exhibit at the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery beginning January 15, 2015. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 4 pm, admission is free.