Some Folklife Festival programs materialize. Others, despite considerable investment, don’t. The Jerusalem program, “postponed” in 1993 and thriving in new forms twenty-five years later, affirms that Festival programs can become more than ephemeral “exhibitions.” The immense resources required to conceptualize this daring engagement across contentious communities are sustainable and adaptable over time, circumstance, and geography.
In 1991 and 1992, I served as Jerusalem program curator and, along with research directors Suad Amiry and Galit Hasan-Rokem, led parallel self-determined Palestinian and Israeli teams in documenting over one hundred Jerusalemites as they cooked, prayed, healed, joked, wove fabric and stories, and performed songs, poetry, and dance. Against a historic backdrop of hope and hopes dashed, peace negotiations seemed destined to produce a two-state solution—and then they did not. Peace was postponed, as was the Jerusalem program.
It seemed that depositing research results in Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. archives was the program’s end. The archive was a rich repository containing a snapshot of everyday life in Jerusalem in the early 1990s; it even contained documentation of then-Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolleck and his unofficial Palestinian counterpart Faisal Huesseini’s willingness to share a Festival stage. Then in 1998, when Sacred Sounds: Belief and Society curator James Early proposed the inclusion of Muslim and Jewish liturgical practitioners, the Jerusalem program archives served to identify the Jerusalem participants who traveled to Washington, D.C.
A decade later, in 2001, the Jerusalem program caught the imagination of policy-minded colleagues at The Ohio State University. By then, I was a research fellow at OSU’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies. In 2006, I received funding to reconvene Jerusalem program researchers at a working conference. Al-Quds University and The Hebrew University provosts Zakaria Al Qaq and Jaime Kaputnik and former Smithsonian assistant secretary James Early joined us as well.
Together we repurposed the dashed Festival program as an undergraduate course based on our original research design. Stories told by practitioners in Jerusalem’s contentious urban neighborhoods became the basis for syllabus readings and blog-based encounters. Jerusalem researchers served as videoconference-based instructors and later guided students during study tours in Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem. The international studies course “Living Jerusalem: Ethnography and Blog-Bridging in Disputed Territory” is ongoing at OSU. Noura Dabdoub, a former student who is now a human rights lawyer, is the current instructor.
In 2012, I moved to the Center for the Study of Global Change and the Center for the Study of the Middle East at Indiana University where, thanks to directors Hilary Kahn and Feisal Istrabadi, the Jerusalem program, now called Living Jerusalem, acquired additional homes. At IU, the Living Jerusalem course achieved high marks university-wide in facilitating increased global awareness among students and won best international studies class in 2013.
Evidence of the effective pedagogical role of culture and art for students grappling with contentious issues got us thinking about broader implications. Could we repurpose the Living Jerusalem course structure to convene, engage, and teach about other conflicts? Department of Education Title VI grants facilitated our partnering with several “minority-serving/under-represented” colleges to explore their local cultural conflicts and the global implications. Out of these conversations, we initiated GALACTIC—Global Arts Local Arts Culture Technology International Citizenship.
Returning to the Jerusalem program’s 1991 Smithsonian genesis, GALACTIC now hosts GALACTIC@SI, a living classroom at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The classroom combines small group discussions about cultural heritage policy, indigenous leadership, the impact of colonialism on Native knowledge transmission, and the role of self-determined local systems in cultural survival. For example, we draw from components that resonate with cultural concerns in the Navajo nation and other global communities.
Moving between Festival and internal working sessions, teachers reflect on how local cultural conflicts resonate with issues raised by artists and community leaders at Festival programs. Experiential time on the National Mall is vital as a comparative lens to think about cultural, social, and policy issues back home such as environment, healing, music, indigenous radio, weaving, foodways, or tourism. A central goal is for educators to build on a pedagogical model that they can replicate or refashion in a variety of learning environments.
In 2014, we launched GALACTIC@SI alongside the Kenya and China programs and Intangible Cultural Heritage symposium. Teachers from Alamo Colleges (Texas), Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana), and Navajo Technical University (New Mexico) attended the inaugural workshop. In 2015, eight Navajo Tech teachers and students participated in GALACTIC@SI at the Peru program. Our partnership with Navajo Tech emerges at an historic moment; the college recently achieved university status. Professor and graduate dean Wesley Thomas has refined GALACTIC goals in the context of Navajo ways of knowing, like foregrounding indigenous leadership, pedagogy, and language.
Exploring connections across global and local conflicts, foregrounding cultural strategies for justice-based resolution, and the role of indigenous and disenfranchised community leaders are cornerstones of the GALACTIC approach. As such, knowledge gained at the Festival is refashioned and re-localized. For example, a Peruvian weaver discusses the impact of water access, land disputes, tourism, and indigenous rights on her traditional practice. Navajo participants screen Peruvian issues against local concerns facing Navajo weavers. A Navajo medicine man trades indigenous healing practices with an Andean practitioner.
Some highlights from the 2014-2015 GALACTIC workshops:
- Navajo Nation education calendar now lists Navajo celebration dates.
- Two new Dine Studies courses at Navajo Tech focus on international leadership.
- Navajo Tech, IU, and universities in several Middle Eastern countries are planning a course on comparative sheep-centered cultures.
- GALACTIC will present at the 2016 Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization conference at IU.
- We are developing a Navajo study tour to Palestinian sheep herding communities.
- A Kenyan participant from the 2014 Festival will serve as a visiting artist at Alamo College in 2016.
- IU and Navajo Tech conducted a student-to-student videoconference session with participants from both schools in 2015. Students discussed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Love Thy Enemy” sermon and shared objects from their homes as a way to share identities and cultures.
- GALACTIC director will facilitate a global awareness workshop for Balfour Fellows High School Seniors at IU in 2016.
This summer, GALACTIC@SI participants from Navajo Tech will explore the Basque program at the Folklife Festival. Some possible parallels and paradoxes include sovereign nationhood within a larger nation, the protection of indigenous language and fluency in colonial language, weaving and pottery traditions, the impact of tourism, and the centrality of technical schools.
Through GALACTIC, participants engage in the complexities of global conflicts and attempts at just resolutions from diverse perspectives. Our art- and cultural policy-based pedagogical model can be replicated or modified to explore world conflicts while simultaneously unmaking seemingly impermeable dichotomies and binaries.
Amy Horowitz was curator for the Folklife Festival’s Jerusalem and Czech Republic programs and consultant for Sacred Sounds and Songs of Struggle. She is now the director of GALACTIC at Indiana University.