Folklores must be safeguarded through education and business: Dr Robert Baron

“Folklore is emergent. It changes each time it is performed, varying in form and context, with innovation by individuals within the convention of the community,” Dr Robert Baron, director of the Folk Arts Programme, New York State Council on the Arts, said here.

“The existence of folklores is not only confined in preserving it. Inclusion of folklore education in school curriculum will give a new dimension in grasping the roots of tradition, culture and heritage,” said Dr Baron, who is a professor at Goucher College, Baltimore, USA.

He was delivering a lecture at a programme titled ‘Abhimukham, organised by Sahapedia, an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India, at the Kerala Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

During his stimulating talk, Dr Robert Baron, who specialises in ‘Cultural Sustainability’,  spoke about the importance and power of traditional cultures, skills and art forms in a society, and how these can be not only promoted to protect skills of artisans and artists, but also to create new industries of economic gain.

Explaining his work in New York and how cultural brokerage can take place, he emphasized that public, apart from curators and museum directors, can also become channels to protect and promote culture.

Dr Baron spoke about cultural broking being a transaction between societies and the skilled, the knowledge of new skills and art forms expended to society in return for support to these skilled artists to preserve and practice their skills.

“India has got a very rich cultural and traditional heritage but the shields protecting them are frangible,” he observed while giving an overview of American Public Folklore and ‘Folklorists as Cultural Brokers’.

Dr Baron said effective safeguarding steps must start from educational institutions, where folklore educations need to be given equal importance as other academic subjects. Giving some examples about how they save cultural tradition in the US, he stressed that tradition and culture can be reconciled in India.

Describing folklores as ‘a living tradition’, he suggested that India should host something similar to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where the world’s largest cultural conversation takes place.    

On cultural tourism in Kerala, Dr Baron said, the state is a role model when it comes to a sustainable way of Cultural Tourism but he raised his brows talking on commercialising folk arts. In a way where, tourism leads to employment generation and economic growth but the commercialisation of art leads to the distortion of its ethnic intrinsic values.

The talk was followed by a panel discussion on the subject by experts including Dr. Rajan Chedambath, The Centre for Heritage Environment and Development, Kochi Muncipal Corporation, and Ms. Indu Menon, Social anthropologist and Co-founder at Kara Weaves.

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