Faculty voice:

Marsha MacDowell:
A museum without walls

Aug. 9, 2013

Marsha MacDowell is the founding and artistic director of the Great Lakes Folk Festival, curator of the Michigan State University Museum and professor of art, art history, and design.

If you ever watched really good swing dancers or listened to master ukulele musicians or looked at a beautiful bamboo fishing rod handmade by skilled craftsperson, you might have thought, "Wow, I wonder how they learned to do that?" or "I wish I knew more about that" or even "I wish I could learn to do that."

At the annual Great Lakes Folk Festival—produced by the MSU Museum and held annually in downtown East Lansing the second weekend of August—you get a chance to discover information about and even try your hand at forms of diverse cultural expressions just like these.

Folk Festival crowd

As one of the festival founders and artistic directors, I, along with C. Kurt Dewhurst (director of arts and cultural initiatives; senior fellow for University Outreach and Engagement; MSU Museum director emeritus; and curator of folklife and cultural heritage), have been overseeing this major campus and community cultural and educational activity since 1987—first on MSU's campus and now in downtown East Lansing.

And the thing is, it continues to be great to be able to creatively extend the museum's commitment to providing best practice, unique and innovative informal learning experiences in this "museum without walls" format.

It is always so wonderful to be able to showcase some of the traditional cultural treasures of the Upper Midwest and a sampling of the best of traditional artists from around the country and the world.

For festivalgoers, it is rare opportunity to experience artists who rarely perform outside of their home communities or for audiences other than their "niche” following.

Folk Festival stage

The festival also provides showcases for the university's engaged scholarly work with communities, its faculty research with traditional cultures and the international activities and groups connected to the campus and the Greater Lansing area.

The festival has something for everyone. Festival attendees come alone, in pairs, as families or groups of friends and everyone finds something that resonates with their own experiences or surprising new activities for which they become fans. Varied, dynamic, authentic, high-quality arts and an unusual but effective method of connecting campus and community—that’s why thousands of festivalgoers attend this annual summer event.