Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What kind of friend are you?

OK, that's a trick question.

I wanted to get your attention to find out if you're a Friend of Folklife. If you've let your Friend of Folklife membership lapse, or you enjoy the festival every year but have never cozied up to it much past stuffing a $10 bill in the donation box, now's the time.

"Now," as in "by April 30."

This "free" festival has a serious budget of about $2 million collars (with costs going up), and relies primarily on individual donations to make the four-day festival happen. (Has anyone seen any big arts grants recently? Didn't think so.)

Unfortunately, Folklife doesn't fit the usual profile of an arts organization or a human services organization or an educational or research non-profit—even though it works in all those areas. And though Folklife does a lot to benefit many of the regional ethnic and folk arts communities, most supporters of those groups tend to fund their own, smaller, projects before thinking of Folklife.

During the month of April, Folklife is doing a special "new friends" campaign to broaden its membership base. Over the years, Folklife has turned again and again to the same core of supporters. The new executive director of Folklife, Rob Townsend, is now challenging the board and longtime Folklife supporters (like me and Zorg) to help him grow that base.

So, I'm inviting you to join Folklife at the $50 level. The Friends of Folklife donation is tax-deductible, so it's a better deal than making $10 daily donations to the cash boxes on the festival grounds.

And, as a Friend of Folklife, when you come to the festival this year, you'll get a special button that will let you into the Folklife Hospitality suite, a large area with free refreshments where the performers hang out and jam. It's nice to be able to wander in there and get a free Coke or cup of tea without having to stand in a long line at one of the food booths; if it's raining, Hospitality is a wonderful sheltered place to come and hear some of the hottest music on the festival grounds.

I suspect that, if you're reading this blog, you already know what Folklife is all about. But, if not, I want to be sure you know that it's not the hippy-dippy fiddle fest that the local news media show 5-second clips of on the nightly news. Folklife's ethnomusicology staff spend years laying the groundwork with ethnic communities in the Pacific Northwest that enable the Festival to bring some fascinating folkways—music, dance, art, and rituals—to the greater community. In many cases, Folklife's interest has helped a community preserve a tradition that had been dying out, passing that heritage on to another generation. This is delicate work that Folklife undertakes; there are internal divisions in some communities and in others there are notions about performance that are very different from the mainstream (for instance, in some cultures, the idea of an artist performing for free, as the vast majority of Folklife performers do, is very odd).

Another unusual aspect of Folklife is that many of the people you see running stages, doing communications, greeting, staffing hospitality, and making the four-day festival run are volunteers. (Even the new executive director was taken aback to discover how much of the work done by hired staff at other festivals is handled smoothly by Folklife's enormous volunteer network.) Without that immense system of volunteers, Folklife could never remain a free festival. It would have gates, security police, ticket takers, and long lines.

As a writer, I don't use the word "unique" lightly. But I have no trouble applying it to Folklife. It's unique: the largest free folk music festival in North American, and easily the most magical.

So, if you've been enjoying Folklife all these years, and want to make sure it continues, now's the time to join me and other Friends in enjoying your very own annual membership and your very own role making sure Folklife continues. Please click here.

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