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Dance Heritage Coalition

Languages and Dialects Table of Contents Series Description

Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection



The Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection contains the audiorecordings, photographs, publications, ephemera, and accompanying manuscript materials associated with the 1977 survey of ethnic artistic expression in Chicago conducted by the American Folklife Center. The Center undertook the project on behalf of the Illinois Arts Council, following a directive from the Illinois legislature to increase programming for ethnic arts. The purpose of the survey was to assess living ethnic art traditions in a contemporary urban American setting. This was accomplished by examining factors such as history, transmission, social structures, and individual artists' lives. The final project report, which summarized the status of existing ethnic arts and provided recommendations for future support, was submitted to the Illinois Arts Council for use in program planning.

The project occurred between February and November 1977 and involved three phases: initial planning and background research, fieldwork in Chicago, and analysis and preparation of the final report. It was organized by Center director Alan Jabbour and staff members Elena Bradunas and Carl Fleischhauer. Research assistants Carol Armbruster and Peter Bartis prepared background material. Greta Swenson coordinated the fieldwork in Chicago; Jonas Dovydenas served as photographer and media specialist. Fieldworkers included fourteen professional folklorists and cultural specialists. After the collection was arranged and housed, Lucy Long prepared a detailed inventory.

The ethnic groups studied during the project were chosen according to two criteria: representation in the 1970 census and the availability of a professional cultural expert for that group. Fieldworkers spent one to three weeks interviewing community leaders and artists and documenting various arts and activities. The fieldworkers compiled information on the following ethnic groups: African-American, Austrian, Chinese, Croatian, Cuban, Czech, Danish, Finnish, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Korean, Latino, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Native American, Norwegian, Polish, Puerto Rican, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Swedish, and Ukranian. Subjects best represented in the collection include instrumental and vocal music, performance, social and folk dance, textile arts, foodways, religious celebrations, wood carving, and community activities such as social club meetings and neighborhood gatherings.

Two smaller projects resulted from the survey; materials from both are included in the collection. The first project was a series of concurrent weekend workshops held in November 1977 in seven Chicago ethnic communities: Greek, Irish, Italian, Latino, Lithuanian, South Slavic, and Ukrainian. Conducted by project fieldworkers who surveyed those groups, the workshops focused on community cultural preservation. The second project was an exhibit of photographs taken by Jonas Dovydenas during the fieldwork. "Inside Our Homes, Outside Our Windows" was mounted at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979 and at several other venues in 1980.

The collection not only documents the lifespan of the project and recommendations presented to the Illinois Arts Council, but also records and preserves the life histories and folk arts of specific urban ethnic communities in Chicago. The materials span the years 1976 to 1981, with the largest portion concerning the project in 1977. The collection is divided into four series by format: manuscripts, sound recordings, graphic material, and moving images. The inventory to the collection, photographic logs, and sound recordings concordance (materials not included in this register) provide detailed descriptions of the contents.

Languages and Dialects Table of Contents Series Description