The daughter of a foreign service father, Virginia's new state folklorist grew up in far-flung locales such as Indonesia, France and the Bahamas. "My experiences being the minority in other cultures has prepped me to be open, curious, and motivated to try and grow understanding across differences," says Katy Clune, the freshly installed director of Virginia Humanities' Virginia Folklife Program, and a key programmer at this year's Richmond Folk Festival.
The state's third head folklorist in 33 years, Clune earned her master of arts in folklore from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and succeeds the long-serving Jon Lohman, who left the VFH last year to run his own nonprofit, the Center for Cultural Vibrancy (CCV). The CCV will sponsor this year's Virginia Folklife stage at the Richmond Folk Festival, and will collaborate with Clune and Virginia Humanities on programming for the Virginia Folklife area, which has moved to a new festival location on the upper canal, bordering 5th Street.
Style recently talked with Katy Clune about her long-term goals as Virginia's new head folklorist, and about this year's home state offerings at the folk festival, including a spotlight on Latin-American musical and dance traditions, and an epic instrument-making demonstration and workshop.
Style Weekly: The programming for the Virginia Folklife Area will be a collaboration this year. How will that work?
Katy Clune: I say that it's like double the folklore power. Jon Lohman is leading his own nonprofit now and that expands the kind of resources there are for what we hope to do. He'll continue to program and host the festival music stage and I'll oversee the craft demonstration area. But there is one stage event that I'm overseeing, a Saturday performance featuring Tata Cepeda, one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated bomba dancers, with the non-profit Semilla Cultural group, led by Isha M Renta Lopez of Fredericksburg. Tata Cepeda is sort of Bomba royalty in Puerto Rico, her grandfather is considered a patriarch of the form, and the Cepeda family is widely known as cultural ambassadors of bomba. She and Lopez are current Virginia Folklife Program apprenticeship participants. It's the first cross-ocean apprenticeship in the program.
There will also be an exhibition that features luthiers and instrument makers showcasing their craft. What will it include?
In addition to the instruments you'd expect, like mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, and so on, we're especially excited to have a woman from Orange, Virginia, Dena Jennings, who makes contemporary string instruments out of gourds that she grows on her property. And then we have a couple of fine violinmakers, Daniel Smith and Richard Maxham, and Smith is going to demonstrate how to carve a violin scroll. Lisa Ring is going to be demonstrating guitar side-bending, and Chris Testerman, from Independence, Virginia, will be there. He trained [in instrument making] with Albert Hash's daughter, Audrey Hash Ham. Albert Hash is this legendary Grayson County luthier, and made a lot of his own tools in his workshop, which he referred to as 'the laboratory.' Chris is bringing two of Albert Ham's tools, and we're going to have a demonstration on how to shape fiddle tops with Hash's duplicator.
What do you hope to concentrate on as the new Virginia State Folklorist?
There is fundamental work to do regarding our archives, some of our administrative processes, and in expanding the resources we generate for the traditional arts in Virginia. I am taking a strong program and making it even stronger. Looking outward, however, I am excited to launch new fieldwork initiatives around climate change, repair, and faith and develop new paid opportunities for emerging documentarians to tell stories about Virginia’s cultures.
What about Virginia Folklife's vaunted Apprenticeship Program, which celebrates a 20th anniversary this year?
I've been assessing the work the program has done to date and I'll say that, in mapping out the locations of the apprenticeships, we really haven't properly served Southside Virginia and there are big gaps in Central Virginia. It's a clear invitation to dive into those parts of the state a little more.
Overall, how will you differ from Jon Lohman as Virginia's State Folklorist? Will there be less of a concentration on music?
My background is in foodways and material culture and skilled trades—so you may see less of a focus on music moving forward but, of course, music will always be a key part of what we do because it's a key part of Virginia folklife.
For more information on the Virginia Folklife Program, go to virginiafolklife.org. for a complete schedule of the Virginia Folklife Area and Center For Cultural Vibrancy Virginia Folklife Stage at the Virginia Folk Festival, Oct. 7-9, go to richmondfolkfestival.org.