Officials with the Kentucky Historical Society say the Kentucky Folklife Program’s move to Western Kentucky University makes financial and philosophical sense.
WKU announced the move Aug. 9 and has named Brent Björkman as the program’s director. Björkman, who was executive director of the Vermont Folklife Program before his April hiring, completed graduate work in the university’s folk studies program in 1998 and worked with the folklife program after graduation.
Björkman is also a public folklorist and research assistant professor at the university. He could not be reached for comment by press time.
Kent Whitworth, executive director at KHS, said he’s “very excited” the folklife program will continue at WKU, especially since many who work have worked in the department are graduates of the university’s folk studies school.
“The fact that it’s going to Western Kentucky University I think really ensures this will continue to be what we refer to as a ‘tall tree’ program for the state,” Whitworth told The State Journal today.
The program should thrive at Western’s Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology, Whitworth said. It had been jointly operated by KHS and the Kentucky Arts Council.
Whitworth noted that “drastic reductions” in the KHS budget also affected the folklife program’s future in Frankfort.
“But the last thing we wanted to see happen was that this program would come to and end, and so we’ve spent almost two years trying to figure out sort of a soft landing, if you will, for this program,” Whitworth said.
“This has meant too much not only to this community, but communities all across the state for it just to go away.”
WKU says the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Arts Council will continue as partners with the folklife program. The program’s archives will join the university’s Folklife Archives housed at the Kentucky Building in Bowling Green.
The program’s previous director, Bob Gates, recently retired but will stay until the end of the year to help the transition to WKU, said Chelsea Compton, KHS’s marketing coordinator. Western says he was honored last year for his work building the Kentucky Folklife Program.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.