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Ingenuity and Tradition: The Common Wealth of Massachusetts

Massachusetts, like the rest of the United States, is a complex place where old and new stand side by side on the landscape and where tradition and innovation combine in people's lives to make them whole. The ingenious combination of old and new is repeated throughout Massachusetts by people as varied as black blues musicians, Cambodian craftspeople, Finnish cranberry farmers, Portuguese fisherfolk and Chinese computer assemblers. In examining Massachusetts traditions for the Festival program, scholars found that change, no matter what its cause, challenged individuals and communities to find creative ways to maintain traditions.

Like the great transformations that have shaped Massachusetts and the country as a whole, traditions can undergo change and emerge transformed but still recognizable. Puerto Rican singer Felix Luna of Lowell applied the traditional decima song form to new lyrics about the Challenger disaster. Gospel singer Napolean Stovell of Springfield directed his southern-born quartet to enunciate their words more clearly because the New England audiences like to understand what is being sung. Mario Picardo of Boston incorporated traditional Italian architectural features to make a bandstand but used plywood, foam, tin foil, and cardboard ravioli boxes to erect his towering confection on the streets of the North End as part of an annual saint's day feast, transplanted to the National Mall by a large contingent during the 1988 Festival. These individuals and their communities remolded traditions into usable form because these traditions add meaning to their lives. That's what folklife both in Massachusetts and in the modem world is all about, and what visitors could experience during the Festival of American Folklife.

Betty Belanus was Curator of the Massachusetts program and Barbara Lau was Program Coordinator. Ingenuity and Tradition: the Common Wealth of Massachusetts was made possible by the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities.

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