A state-wide traveling exhibition, Making it Better tells the stories of more than 30 master artists whose work can challenge social inequity, assist in meditation and help communities grieve, heal and celebrate. Coming from every corner of Pennsylvania, the art represents a wide array of traditions such as African dance, stone wall construction, Native American clay flutes, pysanky eggs, contemporary blacksmith work, woodcarving and Vietnamese funerary portraits. All are integrated into people’s lives and important enough to be shared and passed on.
Making It Better: Folk Arts in Pennsylvania Today is designed to educate visitors about the vitality of living folk art traditions found in the Commonwealth. This exhibit demonstrates that although many traditional arts are rooted in centuries’ old practices; they are thriving and meeting the needs of communities today. They are important enough to be shared and passed on as well as admired as works of art.
These artistic traditions variously challenge social inequity, assist in meditation, and help communities both grieve and celebrate by exploring five basic ways that folk artists are “making it better”: Shaping community, living creatively, practicing spirituality, nurturing well-being and health, and creating social change and awareness. Ultimately, we are asked to consider how our own artistic traditions reinforce our spiritual beliefs and shape our cultural identity.
The featured artists come from many cultures and traditions. They all have different reasons for settling in Pennsylvania. Some were born and raised here. Some are refuges seeking asylum. Some are immigrants who came seeking jobs and opportunities. Yet, all these artist have rich traditions that they love sharing with anyone who is willing to learn.
Yolanda Lorya creates traditional Latuko bead dance costumes native to Southern Sudan. “In America everyone is so busy,” she states, “but we Latuko from the U.S. and Canada meet every year, and we dance.” She creates custom-made bustles, sashes, pendants and headpieces for girls and women.
David Castano’s figures pay tribute to ordinary workers. The exhibit displays nine miners he carved to represent those who were trapped in the Que Creek coal mine in Somerset County in 2004. He is often commissioned to create carvings of sons and daughters serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The exhibit also features the work of POSE II, a graffiti artist. He sees graffiti as an important form of expression for those who otherwise feel they have no voice. “These artists have got something to say,” says POSE II. “They are not going to be repressed. It’s about freedom, it’s about total expression, it’s about beauty…While graffiti has always been viewed as taking away, I, as an artist, am a contributor. I enhance, beautify and uplift.”
Making it Better was created by the Institute for Cultural Partnerships in collaboration with the Erie Art Museum, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, Northern Tier Cultural Alliance, Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, Community Partnerships Resource Conservation and Development Council, and with assistance from the Philadelphia Folklore Project.
Funding support comes from PicturePA, a program of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency; the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council from their National Endowment for the Humanities’ We The People Initiative on American History.
The James A. Michener Art Museum is located at 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. Museum hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 am to 4:30 pm;
Saturday 10 am to 5 pm; Sunday noon to 5 pm. Admission: Members and children under 6, free; adults $12.50; seniors $11.50; college student with valid ID $9.50; ages 6-18 $6; under 6 free. For more information, visit www.michenerartmuseum.org or call 215-340-9800.