Kentucky Folklife Program moving to WKU from Frankfort

Taylor Harrison

Fiddle culture, bourbon distilling and  the other cultural institutions of Kentucky will be studied closer at WKU, thanks to a new outside program.

The Kentucky Folklife Program, previously housed in Frankfort, has found its new home at WKU.

Brent Bjorkman, temporary research assistant professor, is in charge of the program. Bjorkman is a WKU graduate and has previously worked for the Kentucky Folklife Program.

The program does field work — meeting people and documenting the things they do — to preserve Kentucky’s culture.

“You know, the study of folklore is really documenting — meaning interviewing people about their traditions, photographing the communities and the people, and talking to them about how these things were passed on,” Bjorkman said.

Bjorkman said WKU is well suited for the program.

“It came here because of the very fine program in folk studies we have here on campus,” he said. “Folk studies here on campus started over 40 years ago, and it’s a very well-known national program.”

He said another reason for the move was because of financial difficulties in Frankfort, but the group doesn’t stay near its headquarters.

“We’ve done documentation in many different areas of the state,” Bjorkman said. “And it’s not always a rural documentation. Sometimes we do documentation in city centers as well.”

Bjorkman said the program’s archives will be moved to WKU this fall. He also said he will find funding through grants and individual donors.

“It’ll be my job to be thinking about really creative projects that I can do and finding the resources to do that,” Bjorkman said.

Bjorkman said he is looking into a partnership with Traditional Arts Indiana to do a documentation project together in the border region between Kentucky and Indiana.

Michael Ann Williams, the department head of Folk Studies and Anthropology, said the program will be a very important addition to the department because it lets students have hands-on work.

Williams also said WKU’s folk studies department has a national reputation for training students in public folklore.

“This is going to be a really important alliance between an academic and a public program,” Williams said.

David Lee, dean of Potter College, said he thinks Kentucky Folklife’s decision to work with WKU was an easy one.

“We’re the obvious choice to host the folk life program, because we have a very high-profile program in folk studies here, especially at the graduate level,” Lee said.

“We’re nationally known for preparing students to work in public sector jobs, and we’re the natural home for the Kentucky Folklife program.”