DIRTY LINEN GUEST EDITORIAL: THE FOLK ALLIANCE AT THE END OF YEAR ONE (1991)
To learn about today’s Folk Alliance, click here.
By Art Menius
From January 1990 through January of this year , I had the pleasure and challenge of serving as the initial president of the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance, the Folk Alliance. At the conclusion of our extraordinarily successful conference in Chicago, I passed the reigns to Michael Miles of the Old Town School of Folk Music. I deeply appreciate the opportunity provided by Dirty Linen to share some thoughts about the Folk Alliance with its readers, all of whom have an interest in the organization as people who care about the folk music and dance community in the United States and Canada.
The sixteen members of the Folk Alliance Board of Directors spent 1990 laying the foundation for a strong and vital Alliance. The gains of 1990 may not look spectacular, but no year will prove more important to our long range growth. We established a very solid financial basis. We pulled together the best conference to date. We organized the board and built a committee structure, while interpreting the By-laws into practical procedures for electing directors and revising the By-laws. We devised and established an equitable site selection process for future conferences. We created a showcase committee and began devising means for the fairest possible selection procedure. We developed the idea of a folk music month. We have published the first two Folk Alliance newsletters with plans to expand to three in 1991 and four for 1992. We have placed vast effort into dealing with the IRS for our non-profit status. With the bylaws decisions made by the membership in Chicago, we should soon bring this process to a conclusion. We set-up financial and membership processing mechanisms. We approved a process for selecting paid, part-time professional association management assistance. We’ve done this without benefit of staff, other than a very part-time assistant to the Secretary, or internal precedent. The membership at Chicago elected our first directors to serve more than one year terms and hence will elect but five directors per year to three year terms. Future boards will be able to move in an activity oriented direction thanks to the work of the 1990 board, the members of which were elected for only one year.
The third annual conference in Chicago itself proved the spectacular, easy to appreciate facet of our year’s work as a Board. Counting volunteers and showcase artists, some 350 people attended the event, which continued the Folk Alliance tradition of steady growth in conference attendance and revenue. Attendees profited from a set of workshops useful for every major aspect of the field and to create workshops with draw different parts of the community together. We have placed an especial emphasis on multi-cultural programming and involvement. The Program Committee added our first exhibit hall which entirely sold out to the tune of 26 full booths and 36 exhibit tables. Our exhibitors covered the whole gamut of the community from recording companies to magazines to artists and agencies to local organizations. We showcased 22 artists and groups ranging from individual singer/songwriters to full bands, and including stylistically traditional and contemporary folk, old time, blues, Latino, bluegrass, folk harp, African, and classical Indian music and dance. More important, perhaps, than any programmatic component, we brought people in the folk music and dance community together to share ideas and experiences, discuss projects, jam, dance, and have fun together.
For the next year, the Folk Alliance has a vital Board of Directors composed of eight new members: Kwasi Aduonum, Phyllis Barney, Mary Cliff (Secretary), Don Gest, Ken Irwin, Joann Murdock (Treasurer), Anthony Seeger, and David Warren, and seven holdovers: George Balderose, Anne Blaine (Vice-President), Michael Miles (President), Gene Shay, Jeff Warner, Janie Wilson, and myself (at-large Executive Committee member). We’ll be working to present an even better annual conference in Calgary, Alberta on 30 January through 2 February 1992. We plan to examine how to honor those who have helped build the folk music and dance community, how to best serve the community by providing information directly or access to information, and to how to increase multi-cultural participation in the Alliance. We’ll be expanding and refining our committee structure, bringing more members into the working process.
What does the Folk Alliance need from you, the members of the community? We need your energy, ideas, and enthusiasm. We need your involvement, support, and, frankly, membership. The less than 400 current members of the Folk Alliance hardly scratch the surface of our potential base of support. We need members, and we need them now. Please join and encourage others to do so and to attend next year’s conference. The Alliance is for everyone involved with the performing folk arts, regardless of stature. Despite differences in genre and activity everyone stands to gain from unity within the organization. Those of us who as organizations and individuals have joined the Folk Alliance have demonstrated a commitment to the entire performing folk arts community. We recognize the overall health of the field depends on a unity that stresses shared problems and opportunities which overarch demarcations of genre, region, type of involvement, professional status, and ethnicity. Like the Grange movement 100 years ago, we are all spokes of the wheel of this Alliance who must spread the message of unity throughout the continent-wide community