The North Carolina Folklife Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was incorporated in 1974 with a mission to promote the preservation and understanding of folklife in North Carolina. The Institute supported the production of the North Carolina Folklife Festival in 1976, one of the state’s most successful bicentennial celebrations. That success led to the creation of the North Carolina Office of Folklife Programs, one of the first state-supported public folklore programs in the nation. With the creation of this office, the Institute became an organization that worked behind the scenes to support programs initiated by the new folklife office. That support continued when the folklife office became part of the North Carolina Arts Council (NCAC) in the early 1980s.
Every major public program produced by the NCAC’s Folklife Program has required partnership with the Institute. These programs range from production of the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award ceremonies, development of the North Carolina Pottery Center, and presentation of the “Sounds of the South” national conference for the opening of the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC Chapel Hill, to production of documentary sound recordings and films, and development of award-winning heritage tourism trails. The Institute has received and tracked numerous grants and contracts that enabled NCAC folklife staff to produce these and other special projects and events.
In 2002, the Institute hired a staff person on contract for the first time. This position, supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NCAC, enabled the Institute, NCAC Folklife Program staff, and the North Carolina Folklore Society to organize statewide planning meetings for the field of public folklore and publish a report of those meetings. Donation of office space from Garden View Realty in Durham and a grant from the NEA in 2004 made it possible to hire an executive director by September, 2004, and begin to expand the Institute’s services and programs.
Past projects include development of interpretive Cherokee Heritage Trails’ exhibits at four locations in western North Carolina, production of a CD featuring archival recordings of western North Carolina musician Marcus Martin, and production of a series of traditional-artist-and-community profiles for broadcast on National Public Radio. More recent projects include development of heritage tourism trails in rural areas across North Carolina, development of a traditional artist directory for the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, and development of the Institute’s website as a resource for information about the state’s most authentic folk and traditional arts and artists and their communities.
As of 2015, NC Folk has partnered with the City of Lexington in order to document their historical barbecue pits under town hall, and is in the process of creating an online traditional artist directory for Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, and Scotland (CHRS) Counties. We have also sponsored a 2013 Statewide Folklife Festival, the first in 35 years, and created online exhibits in our archive for the event as well as the Bladen, Brunswick, and Columbus (BBC) Counties Project.