Over the past 20 years, there have been part of more than a dozen long-term (and many still on-going) collaborative projects with grassroots community groups, reinvesting in community infrastructure and making local folk artists more visible and viable in the very communities in which artists live and work. Overall, since 1987, the Philadelphia Folklore Project (PFP) has served as an independent public folk life agency, that documents, supports and presents Philadelphia-area folk arts and culture.
It was the 100th anniversary of the American Folklore Society, a national organization of scholars and practitioners that spurred the start of PFP. In January 1987, a handful of folklorists met at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. These researchers were already doing fieldwork throughout the Delaware Valley region. They were listening to what was important to people, paying attention to who cared about local culture (and why), talking to folk artists, and getting to know people and groups who are working to keep culture alive and vital in the neighborhoods.
In PFP’s 24 year history, it has been recognized with several awards, produced over 200 community projects, developed documentary resources on local folk arts and offered services including advocacy, free technical assistance, consultation and other programs for folk artists and grassroots cultural organizations.
PFP is just part of a bigger set of histories of the city’s diverse and remarkable folk and traditional arts: cultural heritage and community legacies sustained by thousands of individuals, city-wide and beyond. Currently, the African Diaspora folk arts of four Philly artists of the African Cultural Art Forum (ACAF) is being featured. Rashie Abdul Samad, Sharif Abdur-Rahim, Frito Bastien and Isaac Maefield have been around the region for decades making a real impact on the local communities through arts, awareness of identity and encouraging economic self-sustainability in the community — all totally political, with the empowerment of the next generation in mind. The African Cultural Art Forum, which Rashie Abdul Samad and his brother Sharif Abdul-Samad founded, have pioneered culturally-minded trade since 1969. Their goal is to foster community self-sustainability and cultural awareness. The depth of their enterprise is visible in their sculpture collection, incense line and beauty products. ACAF has been traveling back and forth to Haiti for the last four decades, buying and trading art to bring back to their West Philly community along the 52nd Street shopping corridor.
“They were among the first to educate people about what was happening throughout the African Diaspora, in terms of literature, hair culture, beauty and more,” explained Maefield “We didn’t know about shea butter until the vendors brought it. This is part of the undervalued material culture of America. Through their energy, many were educated and exposed to African arts.”
The Philadelphia Folklore Project is located at 735 S. 50th Street. For more information, call (215)726-1106 or visit folkloreproject.org.