What Is This Thing Called 'Folk Art?' A Conversation with Reese Tanimura and Ben Hunter

The Northwest Folklife Festival has been a Seattle mainstay for more than 50 years. Every Memorial Day weekend (with the exception of the severe pandemic years), musicians, craftspeople, food vendors, and appreciative audiences have gathered at Seattle Center to celebrate the multiplicity of communities and cultural groups that call the Northwest their home.


Folklife is a big tent event, and Managing Director Reese Tanimura, and Artistic Director Ben Hunter, are keenly aware that the term 'folk art' means different things to different people. They're dedicated to representing the rich diversity of the Pacific Northwest both during the Festival itself, but also in the months after the crowds disperse.

"What does it look like to have a cultural focus that's inclusive of everybody as human beings, rather than splitting people up?" -- Ben Hunter

Vivian and Marcie kick off Season Two with this visit to Folklife early on a damp and chilly May morning. This conversation is the first of four episodes that will focus on Seattle Center, and the role it plays in fostering community through cultural experiences.




A Black man in a green coat and dreadlocks laughs with a Japanese American queer female (she/they) in a black coat and blue and black scarf with short, partially gray hair. They stand on a balcony overlooking  trees at Seattle Center.
Benjamin Hunter and Reese Tanimura at Seattle Center

 

ABOUT THIS EPISODE'S GUESTS


Benjamin Hunter, a Seattle-based polymath, is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, creative/cultural advocate, social entrepreneur, producer, and educator. He is the founder of Community Arts Create, co-founder of the Hillman City Collaboratory, co-founder of Black & Tan Hall, and currently serves as the Artistic Director of Northwest Folklife. He served on the Seattle Music Commission from 2017-2021, and co-chairs the Columbia Hillman Arts & Culture District. Benjamin is a 2019 Gordon Ekvall Tracie Memorial Awardee, was a 2020/2021 Artist-in-Residence at On The Boards, and was a 2020 Artist Trust Fellowship Awards recipient.


Reese Tanimura (she/they) is a fourth-generation Japanese American artist and activist; born on the island of O’ahu, raised between Hawai’i and Illinois, and migrated to Seattle in 2007. Her passion for music was ignited the moment she began playing the ukulele and has grown steadily through numerous instruments and genres. Reese is the Managing Director of Northwest Folklife, a Seattle-based cultural arts and heritage organization, whose mission is: “To create opportunities for all to celebrate, share, and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest.” Since 2008, she has led the Rain City Jazz Orchestra, an ensemble uplifting the musical contributions of womxn and non-binary individuals in jazz, and in 2020, created an EP with her newest project, trashyQ panda, during the few days she left the house. Appointed to the Seattle Music Commission in 2015, Reese served as the Chair from 2017 through the completion of her term in 2021. She is currently on the board of Folk Alliance Region – West (FAR-West) and is a professional member of the Recording Academy, sitting on the Pacific Northwest Chapter Advocacy Committee.


You can learn more about Northwest Folklife here



 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT



VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:00):

Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips


MARCIE SILLMAN (00:01):

And I'm Marcie Sillman. And, and this is doubleXposure.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:16):

DoubleXposure is a podcast where we plum the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.


MARCIE SILLMAN (00:33):

Today, we visit the Northwest Folklife Festival, Vivian. Hello.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:40):

Hey Marcie, how are you?


MARCIE SILLMAN (00:43):

I am good. And I'm so excited. We're kicking off the second season of doubleXposure today!


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:48):

And what was so fun is the fact that we got to kind of cruise around Seattle Center. We were there early, early, early in the morning before the Folklife Festival kicked off that day. And shall we tell people that we also got to do some shopping? I mean, <laugh>, <laugh>


MARCIE SILLMAN (01:08):

Uh,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:09):

Oh, I mean, why not throw that in there? That's also a benefit of going to some of these wonderful festivals that we have here in Seattle.


MARCIE SILLMAN (01:18):

It was very fun. Vivian pulled me against my will to spend some money on clothes. Very beautiful pair of purple pants. I'm excited about.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:26):

Em. I love the craft wear. I love it. <laugh>


MARCIE SILLMAN (01:29):

I love it too. But really what was so exciting was we spoke to Folklife’s Managing Director, Reese Tanimura and the Artistic Director. He's new this year, Ben Hunter, who is a musician and both are such profound thinkers.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:46):

I loved having this conversation with, uh, Ben and Reese in some of the interview. I think I might have thrown in there that I've had the opportunity to interact with them when they were both Seattle Music Commissioners. I'm not sure if they're still on the Commission, but I find them to be two of the deepest thinkers in the arts and in arts administration. And we're just so lucky to have the two of them working on listen, a festival, that's got a history, like, what did we, what did we say? 50 years,


MARCIE SILLMAN (02:23):

51.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:25):

51 Years. So, to have these two individuals come into these positions with some of their fresh ideas, but also holding onto the legacy of the culture that built Folklife. And it was just a really great opportunity to have a conversation with them while they were also wearing their mask, because we were socially distancing and being COVID, uh, compliant. Is that right? <laugh> is that right?


MARCIE SILLMAN (02:52):

You say that is we, we followed all the public health mandates and we were outside, but we were under a little tent so that we weren't getting rained on. And here's this conversation, hope you like it.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (03:03):

We're here at Folklife. And this is the 51st Anniversary of Folklife. Talk a little bit about how Folklife started and how it's evolved.


REESE TANIMURA (03:12):

It's really interesting because there's a couple different parts of Folklife’s start, right? So, in the preceding year of what we call our first year, there was, uh, I think it was the National Parks, did an initiative around the country to start a “Folk Fest,” to gather folks and celebrate cultures. And I don't remember the exact number now, but there were quite a few across the country that they seeded. And of those, we are the only one remaining sort of in the same format. And then the following year, two entities came together and spearheaded what it, you know, what we see today as Folklife or Northwest Folklife and Phil and Vivian Williams were basically what they considered the founders with the, you know, crew of folks from the folklore society. And then they put together this multicultural, intercultural festival and right here where it was the flag pavilion was some of the pictures that you see of the Folklife and the, the performers, uh, right down there beneath us on the Fisher Green (pavilion).


REESE TANIMURA (04:11):

Uh, there was a, you know, bluegrass hill where they do jams. And so over the years, I think it's evolved. I think there's been more stages added, definitely, but also I think being real, like some of the, the way that we make sure that we name different communities that are involved, because there were a ton of communities involved in the first, um, festival, some of them are like named as groups or as like hula dancers, right, versus individual. And sometimes when you have dancers or groups like that, that is the case, but they didn't have like a specific group name. So, I think the evolution is like, we wanna make sure that we are naming the communities that are here and that are present and, and keeping their cultures vibrant here and active and, and practicing their folk life in the Northwest.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (05:05):

It seems as though by doing that more communities feel like they have a home here because they are being named in that way. Ben, this is a 51-year-old festival. You're relatively new to the festival, but you're probably not new to Folklife in general. How have you seen the festival evolve from your experience outside to now being a key coordinator?


BEN HUNTER (05:30):

Uh, yeah, I've been a performer for the festival for, I guess almost 10 years maybe now. Um, and this is my first administrative role, which is, uh, a little bit different time commitment and, uh, clarity commitment. But I do wanna just offer something as a, as a slight anecdote, which I think has grounded me in this festival. Also, I'm a, folklorist I've I play folk music and, and I, and I study roots music. And when I first met Vivian and Phil, um, they invited me to their house and we had a chicken dinner and, uh, we, you know, roasted potatoes and, and carrots. And, um, they took me on a tour of their house. And I, I think it's important to recognize as Reese mentioned, that even in the first iteration of this festival, there were different communities represented. And often I think that that somehow gets lost in various conversations when we talk about Folklife.


BEN HUNTER (06:20):

Vivian and Phil would host touring musicians at their house, they would bring Lightnin’ Hopkins and Doc Watson, and they have stacks and stacks of recordings of basement tapes that they would jam at and, and play in their house that they're, um, donating to, uh, Smithsonian Folkways. I'm trying to get my hands on those. I'll let you know how that, I'll let you know how that goes. But like, that was part of the ethos of what went into this festival. And so, you know, for me, when I came to this festival, it was very much a part of my purview, I guess, or, or whatever, to acknowledge the fact that this wasn't just a festival that, that is represented by an old white man with a beard playing a banjo. That is part of it, but that's not the whole story.


BEN HUNTER (07:07):

Even in that like description that I gave you there's nuance that we don't necessarily uncover. Yesterday, um, we had Mako on stage playing a traditional Okinawan sanshin, which is like a banjo-like instrument, three string banjo-like instrument. And it's funny because when I, when I was doing research on, on Mako to MC and invite her to, to, to this particular performance, that's how the banjo was described, but the banjo was an African instrument. And so, you know, I think part of what we're trying to do here at Folklife also is just, just like break down these, these storylines and these narratives about what folk is so, that we can reclaim that term “folk” and offer it again for what it is, which is really, just people.


MARCIE SILLMAN (07:52):

It's interesting that you, uh, have been talking about music because I always think of Folklife as beyond music. Maybe that's what differentiates it from the zillions of music festivals that happen in the Northwest. So, the other thing I was thinking about Reese, you mentioned naming the different communities that participate. There has been in the past a focus each year on something. And this year's focus is a little bit different. I want you to talk about that.


BEN HUNTER (08:19):

Yes. I do speak about music that's cuz I'm a musician. Yes. But you know, music inherently is dance and, and inherently is food. If, if you think about folk, right? Cause when people got together and did this, you play music after you worked in the fields or picked the corn or, or broke the brittle or made the apples. You do that and then you'd come and you'd play music, you'd dance and you'd eat food together. And so, I just wanna name that. This year's cultural focus is called “Metamorphosis.” And the idea behind “Metamorphosis” was that we've all gone through this change over the last two years. We've all experienced something together as a world, as a people, as a human being species. And in the past, uh, the cultural focus has wonderfully focused on a specific cultural community and highlighted that cultural community and celebrated its dancing and its music and its food and its, and its art forms and its stories.


BEN HUNTER (09:17):

To play devil's advocate to that, what we're seeing in the world right now, and all these divisions is the result of making sure that we genre or split things up into different brackets and divide things up. You know, the whole recording industry is built on that framework. There was race records and there was hillbilly records and that's what started the whole music industry. And ever since then, we've been breaking people up into these little boxes. So, what does it look like to maybe take a step back and look at a cultural focus that is inclusive of everybody as human beings, rather than splitting people up into things. I don't want to go against the narrative that Reese was that was talking about, about naming the different cultural communities, cuz that's exceptionally important. And I think what we were trying to do with “in with the old and in with the new” is recognizing that there's a balance between naming specific cultural communities that are represented from all over the world. And also recognizing that we are also human beings.


MARCIE SILLMAN (10:14):

I love that. Yeah. I love that.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (10:15):

So, you know, “Metamorphosis” is also in my view, a signal that, you know, everybody wants to get back to normal, so to speak. And it says in, in a very plain way, we're not going back to normal. We are evolving in a whole different way. And you also talk about how music is inherently incorporated with food, dance, those kind of things. It sounds like what you're saying is that it's community. It really is about bringing and creating community. So, at Folklife, how do you center community in a way that is also signaling change, right. And trying to break people outta boxes, but also trying to create a home for people. How do you center community?


REESE TANIMURA (11:04):

I think you listen, right? You build relationships. And I think that's part of it. Like we have this event that everybody sort of identifies us with the festival that's four days, it's four days built on constant yearlong relationships, right? It's the day-to-day, it's meeting new people. It's learning about needs of the community. Like in the pandemic, right in 2020 we come to this was it March. And we're like, oh, we can't do do a big thing like this in the middle of a global health crisis, but we have to listen to our community, you know? Yes, we went online, but we also spent a lot of time, um, some of our program folks like dove in and compiled resource lists for artists and, and cultural organizations for grants and you know, relief programs and help, um, mutual aid societies. So, I think the thing is, is like the ability to listen and respond to that and work with communities, right?


REESE TANIMURA (12:02):

You're working together to make sure that you all make it across to the next part of the journey. And I think, you know, that's the metamorphosis, is that thinking of like, it's not about winning the race, cuz I think in the arts we tend to be very scarcity mindset and like we gotta hold onto our resources and we gotta do this thing. And honestly speaking the ecosystem is such as if we don't all win, really none of us wins. It's if there are a few left standing, it's really not to the benefit of all, especially those like individual artists and small orgs that are our partners that help us create our programs, will help us curate the stages, they are the folks that, you know, we have to what's happening for you, you can't do a performance this year. Understandable. Right. And so, I think that creating of community is that deeper relationship that, that authenticity that everybody wants to talk about right. Is like it's the side stuff that most people don't think about in like, oh, you put up the stages and people come and sing and play, but actually they're built on years and years of that cultivation and…


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (13:10):

The way you work together between the time when the festival is actually happening. So, the community feels like they're part of this.


BEN HUNTER (13:20):

And that we're supporting an ecosystem. I mean, I, I think the ecosystem is, is really one of the, the primary words there or, or the philosophies behind what we're trying to do here. What we've been doing here is it's not, it's not just a festival that is a bunch of fun and, and all, and you know, all that it's like it's wrapped up into years and years of learning a craft and years and years of perfecting this knowledge and absorbing this knowledge and being able to pass on this knowledge and recognizing that that itself is a lifestyle, that itself has a life to it and separating a festival somehow from like what is typically described as a career or a job is what we're trying to dismantle. This is people's livelihoods. This is people's lives. This is people's heritage. And for so long before we kind of like rebuilt society to like grind and rat race, this is how people survived and engaged in their life.


MARCIE SILLMAN (14:16):

I wanna follow up on that because it is a livelihood, but there's that assumption, I think, especially when you're talking about folk music, as opposed to big commercial bands that might play over there at Climate Pledge Arena, <laugh> that, that, that's just a thing that happens that I learn the music, or I learn hula from somebody who was, you know, hula master, and I learn how to cook from this and that, it's, that that's enough that happens from generation to generation. I know that there’s a focus on compensating creatives. On making sure that people know about that. Talk a little bit about your role, as Northwest Folklife in, in making people aware of the tangible worth of being a creative.


REESE TANIMURA (14:56):

That's a really interesting part of the evolution. The metamorphosis, right, is that a lot of the, uh, history has been, um, sort of the narrative of, of volunteerism and people giving back to community. And that is real. Like we have so many folks that come and do different jobs at the festival that are like, you know, standing at the entrances and greeting people and helping move things around. And this was happening before 2020, right? The art sector, the cultural sector was not, not even presenting itself in a way that is like trade a work right as a career. And, and I think that we undersell ourselves all the time as creatives and, and cultural workers. So part of our job as a bigger organization that people know as a legacy organization that has some standing with even, you know, like the city and things like that is, is to leverage that and say, how can we be the best advocate to understand that creativity is necessity.


REESE TANIMURA (15:59):

It's essential part of moving our, our city life forward. And I say that in a city that, you know, we all know is very heavily known as this tech and commerce city, all of that comes from innovation, all that comes from creativity. Right? And I think the part about it is that we have to be really vocal and aware about how that is extracted from, um, the creative community, particularly Black and Brown creative community. How that work, that imagination is taken and, and then, you know, capitalized. And then the communities are left behind, when really the work is being done there. Right. Even if you don't produce the end product, the imagination, or if you're doing the, the products on a small scale, they like to call that “cottage industry” nowadays. And that is really just going back again in with the old, that's just going back to like, I'm giving my money to a real person who, who made that or is doing that, you know, to make sure they can survive in a very expensive, <laugh> very like, rapidly changing city.


REESE TANIMURA (17:05):

So, I think for me, I feel like we do have to evaluate our own narrative around that and understand that people participate with us on a wide scale of why they do it. Some people do love to give back and they do love that feeling of I'm giving to community. And then we have artists and creatives who it's harder for them to participate or they can't participate because they're the essential part of this, you know, this event and are, and really, uh, why we exist. But if they're not compensated, it's not going towards their livelihood, they have to make choices. Right. And so how do we think about it in a way that it's not one or the other, because that's capitalistic, right. When we're just saying, well, it either you make money and that's the only way to do it or not. Because really the, the scope of how we engage in art and culture is what is really important to retain. We're evaluating. How do we compensate artists? You know, it's hard, folks get scared when we talk about that, but if we don't ever talk about it, then we're never gonna get to a point where we, we can do that effectively.


BENJAMIN HUNTER (18:13):

I just wanna just say, what's, what's really good about me coming in as a new person in this time, after the pandemic—Reese and I've worked together for a number of years in various projects. And I think we both share the same vision about all of this. And now we get to like kick up some dust. And I wanna just point out the, the juxtaposition of things and recognizing the holistic nature of the creative economy, the people that do the sound and the lights and set up the tents and all that stuff. They're part of this creative economy and that they are helping build this festival and they get paid. People don't come to this festival for the people that put up the tents. [That's right (Vivian).] They come to this festival for the people that are under the tents. We need to name that so that people understand that like there's a lot of money and cost that goes into putting something like this on that's publicly accessible to anybody that wants to join. Let's at least show our appreciation and tip our hat.


MARCIE SILLMAN (19:05):

Don't go away. Our conversation with Northwest folk, life festival directors, Reese Toora and Ben hunter continues in just a minute.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (19:15):

Our music is courtesy of Big World Breaks, many thanks.


MARCIE SILLMAN (19:19):

And this year we welcome our sponsor LANGSTON, cultivating black brilliance from their home at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the historic Central District.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (19:40):

Both of you have brought up a couple of issues, you know, around the scarcity mentality overall in the arts. And then this narrative around the starving artist, and the fact that we have built a community that believes that arts should be free and that's fine, but how do you make the art and how do you compensate the people? Because they are a part of the ecosystem. With you both being artists, I appreciate how you all have bought that kind of heart and blood to this particular festival. So how do you see your role in sustaining community in that way with artists in the long term? [background: more money, more money, more money] <laugh>


BEN HUNTER (20:27):

Well, I, you know, there's different ways to offer resources to folks. And you know, one of the things that we've done this year, um, is we created a little production studio, and we recorded 60, 60 artists, um, in this studio. We call it “The Quilt Sessions.” It's really, it's really cute and lovely, but you know, it costs hundreds, if not a thousand or more dollars to produce a quality video, but we're gonna give all these videos and well produced videos to the artists, so that they can use them to market themselves and promote themselves. That's that's compensation.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (21:01):

Bridging that tech and innovation and creativity all together,


BEN HUNTER (21:04):

You know, and, and, you know, we want to pay our artists, but until we have the, the resources and the infrastructure, to be able to do that equitably to everybody, here's something that we can do to help promote artists in a real way. That's going to benefit them in the long run.


MARCIE SILLMAN (21:15):

We've been talking about people and of course, community is people, but this festival with the exception of two pandemic years, has happened live here at the Seattle Center for 60 years. This has been what I think of as a cultural hub of the city. And that's something Vivian and I are focusing on this season. So, I'm curious for your perspective, why is it important for cities to have a cultural destination? To have a place where people say, yeah, I'm gonna go to this festival, I'm gonna see things, or I'm gonna go to a play, or I'm gonna go to a dance performance, or I'm gonna see a busker.


BEN HUNTER (21:55):

Well, Reese talked about it earlier, central to what we need to do is people is listen more. From a musician's perspective, you know, central to being able to play good music, especially in a group is to be able to sit and listen to the people that you're surrounded with, is to be able to observe and, and pick up nuances and react to them in a, in a certain way, and to think about that. Having cultural spaces is not just about being able to see different modes of expression. It's also the opportunity to be in a place with people. To be next to people, to absorb their energy, to see their smiles and their laughs. And like, you know, we can talk about deep, high-level stuff, but when it all comes down to it, the value of cultural place and the value of cultural anything is to be able to exist in the, in the very like basic human forms of, of human-hood.


BEN HUNTER (22:50):

<laugh>, you know, like I, like, I'm trying to like find like, you know, high words to describe it, but, you know. I was talking to my mom yesterday and I have a, I have a two-year-old son and, you know, she was asking about him, and I was like, yeah, you know, he gets up every morning and he, and he, and he pulls a book from the shelf and he, and he reads. And she's like, reads? He doesn't really read. And I was like, well, yeah, ma opens up a book and he looks at the pictures and it conjures something in his mind. And if we were to go back a millennia, you know, before we had, you know, letters and alphabets and whatever, even if we were just to go back to like Egyptian times and hieroglyphs, pictures was a way that we conjured communication. And so, you know, it it's just basic stuff. And I think we, we, we try so hard to like, make it complex and try and explain things in some deep, complex way, when really what the arts is, is it brings us back to our basic fundamental selves. I believe that that's the value of, of cultural place.


REESE TANIMURA (23:45):

For particularly in this time, right? Like you, Ben was talking about gathering with people. We are gonna see long term effects of people being isolated, whether, you know, whether the Zoom was there or not, the fact that people couldn't get together, even, even introverted, people were starting to be like, I need to see other people. There is something about, you know, that human energy, aura, just being able to have that touch, whether it's, you know, a lot or a little. And I think that the arts gives folks a common reason to come together, that sometimes you don't even need to talk. Right. So that's the beauty about it? Like there's things where you do interact. And then there's things where I was, yesterday afternoon down on the Fisher Lawn. And sometimes I just like to look across, right. The lawn was just full of people sitting in the sun, on their blankets, listening to this great band and just being in proximity of each other, experiencing that moment together, not even having, having to talk, right?


REESE TANIMURA (24:43):

Looking around feeling that other people are, are having that moment with you. I think that's like, Ben said, getting down deep it's, it's actually deep. That basic thing is deep. Yeah. And then on the other side, there's like, there's a draw, right? Like people don't come to Seattle Center to just, you know, eat the hot dog. <laugh> the concessionaire stand. They come to look at, you know, the architecture of the buildings. They wanna interact with the, the culture and the art behind that, the innovation, imagination, and the creativity. And so if we don't have these spaces to, to do that and particularly to do that together, we end up in, unfortunately I have to make this comparison to this, uh, this place I went in Prague, where it was like, I think just somewhere in the, the post era of like literally like gray buildings with like little tiny windows. And it's not a place that you wanna just hang out in. It's a place that's functional, but people are leaving that place to go to a place that they can see other, you know, bright, beautiful colors and sounds, and, and humans.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (25:53):

Yeah. Seattle Center is like a place of arts and sciences. You know, I, I look at the, the landscape here. That is a work of art in so many ways. And it's somebody's job, right, to maintain that. One of the things I don't know that people know about, the two of you, is that you have been influencing arts and culture in this region for a very long time. I know you both at Seattle Music Commissioners, and I know that you all have just worked really hard. So how are you now taking your role, these administrative roles? And I know Reese you've, you've been here for a while. Ben, this is like, it's like the perfect sandwich. <laugh> um, how do you see your role coming from other influential roles, as moving the conversation about elevating the significance of arts and culture in our community across the region?


BEN HUNTER (26:51):

Speaking from my experience, and I've spent the last 12, 13 years as a touring musician, and like, you know, a community organizer in a very small space, Hillman City, South Seattle, Columbia City, Rainer Valley area, those kinds of juxtapositions have helped influence my philosophy on art, right? Cuz it's, it's like working in small community is the best thing in the world. You meet people, you know, people, you, you, you see them on the street, you say, hi, you walk by 'em in the store or you, you know, and, and you, you feel like you're part of something. Having been able to been fortunate enough to travel as a musician around the world, um, you get to see how that happens in all places, old and new. And I think to me, what we're trying to do here at Folklife is replicate the model of a small community, but make sure that it is understood that this happens universally and that, engaging with your neighbor.


BEN HUNTER (27:51):

I started watching Mr. Rogers again, cuz of my son, you know, and it's like, that's all it is. Every day he walks in and his postman comes in, it's all about neighbors. And I feel like we just have forgotten that even before this pandemic, which has pushed us outside of that, we have been isolating ourselves for decades. [Yes (Vivian)]. We have been pushing ourselves away from people for decades, staring at a screen for decades. What I loved about my job <laugh> when I was working in small community, is that I, you know, I wrote some emails. I probably didn't answer a lot of emails. I, I probably neglected a lot of emails, but I met people at restaurants and bars and, and shows and, and parks and museums. And, and I talked to people and I looked in them in their eyes and we, and we were able to conduct business, but in a, in a very human and genuine and authentic way.


BEN HUNTER (28:38):

And so I, I think what we're talking about Folklife, at least for me, it's about, re-instilling the fact that folk fundamentally is people. It's not old, arcane. Traditional. This definition of traditional is being old. Folk is people and people change. And that's why “Metamorphosis” because inherent in people, inherent in folk, is transition. And if we could just adopt that a little bit more, if we could just recognize that into our psyche and stop being so stalwart to like accept that change can or should happen. And we can do that in, in our small communities and have those conversations that, you know, that are meaningful and, and allow us to listen. I feel like we're just repeating ourselves <laugh> over and over again, but it it's very basic. And that's, that's what I'm hoping to get from, from that, from that work.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (29:24):

I think it's so important for people to know that the work that the work you have done in community, your connections in South Seattle, your connections with the municipal bodies, a lot of that work is well, the majority of it is on your own time. It's volunteer. It's the thing that you are investing, in our communities through your art and work. And now having you here administering as two artists, who are doing like this major festival for our city, I think is a, can be a game-changer for actually influencing the importance in policy of incorporating art and culture in a real way.


MARCIE SILLMAN (30:09):

I wanna thank you both because this has been a real highlight. We are talking at the end of a really hard week where we've seen a lot of violence, a lot of hate and to listen to you two and to just feel your passion and inspiration and, and it's inspirational.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (30:27):

Thank you both so much,


MARCIE SILLMAN (30:31):

Vivian. I know I just said how inspirational this conversation was, but I still, when I think back on, on hearing Ben and Reese talk about not just the role of Folklife in Seattle, but the role of culture and cultural communities in the larger community of, of King County, where Seattle sits, I'm still just as inspired as I was when we recorded.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (30:58):

I feel the same way. And I also have a high appreciation for the ability to kind of get in a conversation that helps us to understand that folk and life is everybody, right? So, it's not just a particular segment of our community that celebrates Folklife. It is a festival that celebrates our folk culture. And we do a lot of that in our own individual neighborhoods and festivals, but I really see Folklife becoming, or it already has become, a real community gem that really invites us in, to come experience everything.


MARCIE SILLMAN (31:41):

I think that's so true. And one of the things that I really value, and it struck me again, that Saturday, when we went down there, is that there are many festivals, music festivals, where there are fences put up where there are gates and Folklife does ask for donations, but it is free if you can't afford that donation. There aren't fences. The only thing that marked the edge of Seattle Center, the edges were COVID testing sites. Because if you wanted to go to an indoor venue, you needed to get a wrist bracelet and you didn't pay for the wrist bracelet. The payment was that you had to have a negative COVID test. That was it. Yeah. Yeah. And the, the notion that it's a festival for everybody and in this case, by everybody really resonated, especially in this post-pandemic era where we're just, well, I guess mid-pandemic era, but I was hoping, I'm being hopeful that as we move through, we get a chance to reconnect with people.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (32:40):

And it's so important for us to be able to do that and what a great place to be at, Seattle Center. Seattle's living room <laugh>, which is just, I know everybody's, you know, like, complaining about all the rain that we've had, but I have to say it over and over again. I have experienced such beautiful green lush, flora and fauna. You just can't sit on the grass <laugh> as right now, but it was fun.


MARCIE SILLMAN (33:10):

<laugh> you bring your tarp with you, right?

This was the first episode of Season Two of doubleXposure. And this year, we're doing things a little bit differently. We're gonna be focusing on four areas of the City of Seattle. And Seattle Center is our first neighborhood, if you will. So, we're gonna hear a few more episodes that focus on this area because we're really excited when we see the power that cultural events like Folklife, or the Seattle Waterfront artistic programming have, to both amplify the artists and communities that participate, but also to bring us all together.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (33:47):

And in this season, it's gonna be so fun. We're excited! And we hope that people will listen because your neighborhood, your community might be highlighted or spotlighted, and who knows what you might have to offer? So, beyond Seattle Center, we are then focusing on the Waterfront, South Park, and the historic Central District. So, I'm thrilled. Thank you so much for partnering with me in this, this journey to really elevate the ways in which art and culture help us to be more human and more empathetic.


MARCIE SILLMAN (34:21):

Thanks all for listening to doubleXposure. Executive producers are me, Marcie Sillman.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (34:30):

And me, Vivian Phillips. We get production support from Hillary Northcraft, Randy Engstrom, and Calandra Childers.


MARCIE SILLMAN (34:38):

Support for doubleXposure comes from Pyramid Communications.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (34:41):

And we're especially proud to support Crosscut Media's Black Arts Legacies project, highlighting the role of black artists and arts organizations throughout our cultural landscape.


MARCIE SILLMAN (34:53):

If you like what you're hearing on this episode of doubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website, doubleXposurepod.com.



Northwest Folklife Episode Transcript
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