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St. Mary’s College of Maryland was recently awarded a Maryland State Arts Council Folklife Network grant totaling $40,500 to represent Southern Maryland as a Maryland Regional Folklife Center in the Maryland State Arts Council’s Folklife Network. Regional folklife centers serve to continue “programmatic or educational efforts made by an organization to support folklife, or community-based living cultural traditions handed down by example or word of mouth.”

The College will create a Southern Maryland Folklife Summer Institute as the key feature of the Regional Folklife Center. The annual summer institute will be held at St. Mary’s College and will add unique opportunities to the rich and vibrant array of folklife events already operating in the region by celebrating and supporting community-based living cultural traditions of Southern Maryland (St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles Counties).  The institute will achieve this goal by offering a raft of workshops centered around broad folklife activities and their Southern Maryland components. Some proposed workshops will be specific to Southern Maryland (genealogy, cuisines such as stuffed ham and soul food), while others will reflect activities of Marylanders (landscape painting, beekeeping, oral history), while broader workshops will focus on the Mid-Atlantic region (bluegrass folk music, small farm entrepreneurship).

In preparing the grant, the team collaborated with the arts councils and organizations of the tri-county region in a community survey to learn about regional folklife needs and the kind of programming the community would like represented in a folklife institute.

The institute will pilot in June of 2021 with two days of exciting workshops and will close with a public exhibition and celebration event in the SMCM Boyden Gallery (pandemic permitting). The gallery event will allow participants to display their work and efforts learned in the workshops and may include such elements as short readings of oral histories, displays of family genealogies, landscape paintings, live folk music, and samples of culinary dishes. Campus residential housing will be available to participants. The institute will dovetail with the widely popular, community-centered Southern Maryland River Concert Series that draws thousands of people from the region for weekly outdoor summer concerts and the prestigious Chesapeake Writers’ Conference, therefore providing additional visibility and extra-curricular activities for participants.

In addition to the College’s Boyden Gallery, the SlackWater Center will also be a key participant in the folklife center as the institute’s activities will be featured in, and may also produce content for, the SlackWater journal. In addition to the journal, the SlackWaterCenter also provides students and community members with opportunities to conduct oral histories, hundreds of which are transcribed and available online on the Archive’s website as the SlackWater Oral History Collection. The activities of the institute may produce writing features, images (art and photography), oral history interviews, genealogies, and recordings of lectures that will then be added to the SMCM Archive.

Over the coming years, the College aims to incrementally build upon annual institute offerings and community engagement, by soliciting candid assessment and suggestions from all participants of the pilot and subsequent institutes.


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