A Folk Tradition
The GLFF is a unique fusion of art fair, music festival, multi-ethnic festival, hands-on activity workshops and a celebration of cultural heritage. Held in downtown East Lansing every second weekend of August, the festival aims to encourage cross-cultural understanding through various presentations and performances.
“People can come here year in and year out—families, all kind of configurations of ages, groups, races, ethnicities—and find something in that festival that they will resonate with and they’ll learn from,” Marsha MacDowell, cofounder of the GLFF and Michigan State University professor and museum curator, says. “They can walk down the streets and sample and hear things that they would otherwise never have a chance to or might be afraid to. And it affirms their own traditions when they seen them highlighted and performed on a stage.”
Started in 1987 under the name Festival of Michigan Folklore, the festival was encouraged by MSU’s museum-driven and East Lansing’s community-driven actions to develop a cultural event that would attract visitors to the East Lansing area while offering a unique educational showcase. The festival has since undergone a name change and included components from the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival and the American Folk Festival. Today the GLFF provides a comfortable environment that encourages attendees to experience new cultures and traditions.
“[GLFF] is produced by the MSU museum and backed by music specialists, cultural anthropologists, folklorists, ethnomusicologists, people who really know the traditions,” MacDowell says. “We are constantly refreshing the programs every year based on the research people are doing. The Great Lakes Folk Festival is one of [a] handful of festivals around the country that showcase consistently authentic, high-quality roots music that is rooted in community ethnic family tradition.”
Attendees enjoy showcases based on the traditional cultural treasures of the nation’s upper Midwest and a sampling of the best traditional artists from around the world. The three-day festival is comprised of 150 artists, including musicians, dancers, craft vendors and other artists. With four performance stages, children’s hands-on activities, crafts demonstrations, and the Lansing area’s only green arts marketplace, the GLFF has grown to be the largest annual cultural event in the Greater Lansing area.
Approximately 80,000 attendees visit the festival each year, traveling from as far as Toledo and Chicago, and generate an estimated $1.74 million into the local economy. Over the years the festival’s mission and significant economic impact have gained the monetary support of organizations and individuals alike, ensuring the festival will continue to be held on the streets of East Lansing year after year.
In order to keep the festival donation-based during these challenging economic times, the GLFF continues to seek sponsorship and relies on cash and in-kind support from a variety of sources, including the National Endowment for the Arts, MSU, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the City of East Lansing. In addition, local businesses and individuals support the festival by way of the Bucket Brigade and the Great Friends program. Through the Bucket Brigade attendees are encouraged to make on-site donations into various buckets throughout the festival. The Great Friends program, made up of nearly 300 members, allows individuals and businesses to make annual contributions to the festival ranging anywhere from $5 to $1,500.
“What has been nice is the broad spread of the support. All these things are critical pieces that come together to make it all happen,” Kurt Dewhurst, cofounder of the GLFF and MSU professor and director of arts and cultural initiatives, says. “We have been pleased to be able to operate on a sustained manner now for 26 years.”
According to Dewhurst, in addition to an educational and entertainment offering, the GLFF also strengthens the community’s cultural economic development, which leverages the community’s creative talent and cultural assets to spur economic growth and community prosperity, a concept that is now more important than ever to the future success of Greater Lansing.
“It is becoming increasingly important to develop a sense of creative economy. It attracts businesses to locate here and it plays a key role in retention. The festival is very much a part of a larger strategy of cultural economic development of the Greater Lansing area,” Dewhurst continues. “It is an investment in making Lansing a creative and interesting place that is going to continue to attract new people, new businesses, new entrepreneurs, as well as help us retain that young core of people who are so determined to make this a good place to live.”
Great Lakes Folk Festival August 10-12, 2012