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American Folklife Center Permanently Authorized! 

Alan Jabbour, Director <>
American Folklife Center
Library of Congress
Washington, DC  20540-4610

A while back I reported that Congress had passed the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, containing within it a section providing for the permanent authorization of the American Folklife Center.  Now I'm happy to report that the bill (H.R. 4112) was signed into law by President Clinton on October 21st.

The principal accomplishment is the permanent authorization of the Center. Henceforth the Center will not need to approach the Congress to have its life extended every two or three years.  However, its budget is still supported by the Congress as part of the annual appropriations process.

In addition to providing permanent authorization, the new legislation modifies the structure of the Center in a few ways:
1. The board now includes ex officio the presidents of the American Folklore Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology.
2. The Librarian of Congress is given four appointments to the board "from among individuals who are widely recognized by virtue of their scholarship, experience, creativity, or interest in American folklife traditions and arts."  These will include at least two who "direct or are members of the boards of major American folklife organizations" (other than AFS and SEM, which now occupy ex officio positions on the board).
3. Board members will no longer receive honoraria for their service, though they will be reimbursed for the expense of attending meetings. 4. The legislated position of Deputy Director has been eliminated.In my opinion, and in the opinion of the Center's Board of Trustees, these structural changes strengthen the Center for the future, so we're all delighted to see them incorporated into our legislation.


Over the past year and a half the Center's Board of Trustees mounted a national campaign to gain permanent authorization.  Hundreds of friends of the Center responded with thousands of letters, telephone calls, faxes, e-mail messages, and direct-contact conversations with Members of Congress.  The campaign not only helped create new supporters of the Center but reassured previous supporters that the Center had an active, concerned constituency.  Thanks to the Board for spearheading this campaign, and especially to Judy McCulloh, who, as chair of the Board up till March of this year, was the campaign's indefatigable central operator.  And thanks to all of you who responded by contacting your Members of Congress.  It made a huge difference, and all of us at the American Folklife Center are deeply grateful.

In recent months the Board of Trustees continued to play a key role in shaping the final legislation.  Bill Kinney, as the new chair, provided stellar oral testimony during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.  Bill kept up the Congressional contacts as the legislation took its final form and worked its way through the Senate and House, and he was a skilled and compelling chaperon for a bill trying to become law.

During that hearing when Bill Kinney testified so effectively, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi spoke up forcefully in favor of permanent authorization.  Senator Cochran went on to introduce as a separate piece of legislation a form of the authorization bill shaped by the Board.  The bill, S. 1971, as revised for technical corrections, was included in the FY 1999 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.  Senator Cochran richly deserves our gratitude as the author of the Center's permanent authorization and final restructuring.

Deep thanks are due as well to all the key Members who supported the Center's authorization.  Several senators lent critical support -- especially Senator John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration; Senator Wendell Ford of Kentucky, ranking minority on that committee; Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Senator Robert F. Bennett of Utah, chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee; and Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, ranking minority of that subcommittee.

For the House, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Congressman Bill Thomas of California, Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library; Bob Livingston of Louisiana, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; Dave Obey of Wisconsin, ranking minority on that committee; James Walsh of New York, Chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee; and Jose Serrano of New York, ranking minority on that subcommittee.

Congressional staff, as always, were instrumental in getting this work done.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Ed Edens of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration; Christine Ciccone of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Michael Loesch on behalf of Senator Cochran; and Reynold Schweickhardt of the House Oversight Committee.

The Library's Congressional Relations Office managed the entire process, working closely with the Board of Trustees and the Center every step of the way.  Geraldine Otremba planned the strategy and guided the effort, Steve Kelley provided crucial help on a daily basis in shepherding the legislation from the beginning of the process through the last hurrah, and Pam Russell helped in shaping the legislation's final wording.  Associate Librarian for Library Services Winston Tabb contributed to the running internal conversation on reauthorization.  And Librarian of Congress James H. Billington kept the engine humming by insistently reminding all and sundry in Congress and within the institution that the Center's permanent authorization was his top legislative priority.

Joe Wilson, ever vigilant on behalf of the Center and the field, rallied help and support and kept the fires lit.  Other Federal cultural officials like Bill Ferris, Bill Ivey, and Ellen McCullough Lovell helped by joining the conversation about the Center's future.  Friends like Stephen Wade also joined their voice to the chorus for permanent authorization.

In short, it was a terrific, concerted, sustained effort by many people working together for a long time.  Thanks to each and every one of you from all of us in the American Folklife Center!

Alan Jabbour

NEH Deputy Chairman Appointed; NEH Grants Available

Folklore consultant to assess NEH folklore projects, offer program recommendations.

WASHINGTON -- The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has appointed Robert Baron, director of the folk arts program at the New York State Council on the Arts, to a year long position as the agency's folklore consultant. Mr. Baron will provide an assessment of NEH's past funding of folklore projects and make recommendations on how to build on that foundation.

"Folklore is a little-recognized field of the humanities yet it lies at the heart of our self-understanding as a nation," said NEH Chairman William R. Ferris. "Folklore is about the art of storytelling, the nature of legend and the representation of character. Its subject matter ranges from Aesop's fables to Horatio Alger. Its forms include ballads, tales and classic novels. Given NEH's mission of broadening every American's understanding of our national identity, the Endowment seeks new ways to foster research and public understanding about the complex mix of folklore traditions that underlie American culture. I am pleased to welcome Robert Baron as NEH's folklore consultant. His long experience in the folk arts and in public programming will provide a critical perspective on where NEH should be headed in the area of folklore studies."

Robert Baron has held a variety of positions at the New York Council on the Arts. Since 1985 he has directed the council's folk arts program, which supports the documentation, presentation and interpretation of folklife programs at museums, historical societies and community-based cultural groups. From 1996 to June 2000, he directed the council's museum program, which provides support for exhibitions, exhibition planning, museum education and interpretation, collections management, field services and operations. He was a senior research specialist at the Brooklyn Museum of Art from 1977 to 1979.

Mr. Baron has been a leader in the folklife field for years, holding a number of advisory positions with organizations including the American Folklore Society, the Middle Atlantic Folklife Association, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. He holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities. NEH grants enrich classroom learning, create and preserve knowledge, and bring ideas to life through public television, radio, new technologies, museum exhibitions and programs in libraries and other community places.

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