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Arts Council Moves Maryland Folklife Archive to UMBC

Arts Council Moves Maryland Folklife Archive to UMBC


More than forty years of Maryland traditions opens to public

April 30, 2014Press Release

At an April 21 ceremony at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) announced that its Folklife Program—the oldest of any state arts agency in the nation—has permanently moved its archive to UMBC, as part of its ongoing Maryland Traditions partnership, where the archives will be open to the public for the first time.

The interviews, music recordings, photographs and oral histories contained in the archive reach back as far as the 1960’s. In 1974, the Maryland Folklife program was created—with support from the National Endowment for the Arts—as an outcome of a 1968 Maryland Gubernatorial Commission for the Study of Folklore. At UMBC, the archive resides at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery and will be integrated into the University of Maryland library system.

Stories of Chesapeake Bay watermen and Baltimore City arrabers, photos showing the work of Baltimore screen painters and Native American beadworkers, recordings of Chuck Brown and Ola Belle Reed, and accounts of first and second-generation immigrants from West Africa, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, the Caribbeanand Central America are among the rich and varied contents of the archive.

In thanking UMBC for its partnership, Dominick Murray, secretary, Department of Commerce said, "It's Maryland history as told by the people who lived it. Collecting these stories is very worthy, but ongoing, never-ending work. And we are lucky to have UMBC join us in that. This partnership will give all of us a place to hear the voices of past generations and learn about our rich, shared history."

In his remarks, UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski shared a story from the archive as told by Ahmad Borhani, who fled his native Iran in the wake of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power. “His arrival in Baltimore confronted him with a reality totally at odds with what the Iranian state had told him about the USA,” said Hrabowski, quoting Borhani:

I hated to come to the United States …I didn’t know that Americans might even work! I came here, and said, my God, this country is made of work!...It was amazing for me, how people work in this country…it was a big shock for me  for what I had in my mind about the United States…If anybody works like Americans, their country will become America.’

“This story highlights the important role of culture in enhancing our understanding of the role of place and the meaning of work,” said President Hrabowski, adding “we’re delighted to make stories like this available to the public.”

The ethnographic fieldwork documentation contained in the Maryland Folklife Archives includes occupational traditions, traditional performing arts, traditional material arts, traditional foodways, vernacular architecture and decorative arts, personal and folk narrative stories told by a range of immigrant communities and traditional methods of watermen dating back to 16th century England.

To learn more about the archive, contact Tom Beck, UMBC’s Chief Curator,, or 410-455-3827. 

Pictured above, from left to right: Cliff Murphy,  PhD, Maryland Traditions Director; Michelle Stefano, UMBC, Freeman Hrabowski, President, UMBC; Elaine Eff, former Maryland Traditions co-director, Rory Turner, former Maryland Traditions co-director; Theresa Colvin, MSAC executive director; Dominick Murray, secretary, Maryland Department of Commerce.

About the Maryland State Arts Council 
The mission of the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC), an agency of the Maryland Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, is to encourage and invest in the advancement of the arts for the people of Maryland. The latest economic impact report shows that MSAC grantees' activities support more than 12,700 full-time equivalent jobs and generate $1.07 billion in economic activity and $48 million in state and local taxes.

About Maryland Traditions
Now in its thirteenth year, Maryland Traditions is a collaborative statewide folklife partnership program of the Maryland State Arts Council with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to create a lasting infrastructure for the documentation, promotion and celebration of traditional culture in Maryland. Maryland Traditions and its partners conduct cultural documentation, produce public programs and publications, and create public resources through archives and grant programs. For information contact Cliff Murphy, 410-767-6450 or

About UMBC
UMBC balances a deep commitment to undergraduate education with its rapid development as a distinguished public research university.  Once again, UMBC has been named one of the top national universities (#6) by U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges Guide’s list of schools with the “Best Undergraduate Teaching,” along with such universities as William and Mary, Berkeley, Princeton, and Brown “where the faculty has an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching.”  UMBC offers undergraduates an honors university experience with special learning opportunities traditionally found at small liberal arts colleges and is building one of the most inclusive graduate education communities in the nation.

Media Contact: 

Kate McMillan