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Fresno folklorist will help oversee the nation’s memorable folk treasures

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WASHINGTON—Fresno resident and folklorist Amy Kitchener will help tend the nation’s collective memories as a trustee of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The co-founder and executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, with offices in Fresno, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, Kitchener has been tapped for a six-year term on the American Folklife Center’s board of trustees. The position will put her atop a world-class archive and expose her to a wide array of cultural movers and shakers.

“We’re the stewards, guiding the center,” Kitchener said in an interview March 7. “It’s an exciting prospect.”

Congress established the American Folklife Center in 1976 to “preserve and present American folklife” through research, documentation, archival preservation, live performance and more. The center, among other efforts, hosts the Veterans History Project, which stores the personal accounts of American war veterans, as well as the Civil Rights History Project.

Through the Veterans History Project’s readily searchable online database, for instance, it’s possible to find the recorded memories of veterans who trained during World War II at specific California military bases.

“I went through basic training at the Army Air Force post in Fresno; one month of training, which was mostly in close order drill and how to don a gas mask,” Army Air Corps veteran and former B-24 bomber pilot Hugh V. Anderson recalled in a videotaped 2003 oral history.

The center also is responsible for a massive archive, which houses more than 5 million items including sound recordings, photographs and field notes. The collection’s online findings, for instance, include “Northern California folk music” recorded from 1938 to 1940, tapes from the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival and several cylinders of “Central Sierra Miwok songs” recorded in Tuolumne County in 1914.

Kitchener, 52, said she had a particular interest in the American Folklife Center’s work relating to Native Americans and immigrants.

“These are not only historical materials, but they are very relevant today,” Kitchener said.

Trained as a public folklorist, Kitchener holds a master’s degree in folklore and mythology from UCLA and an undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona. She initially came to the San Joaquin Valley about 25 years ago to work with the Fresno Arts Council. 

The Alliance for California Traditional Arts she co-founded, according to its website, “promotes and supports ways for cultural traditions to thrive now and into the future by providing advocacy, resources and connections for folk and traditional artists.” 

“We have a national reputation for our programs,” Kitchener said, noting that the alliance is the largest nonprofit organization of its kind dealing with statewide folk preservation.

Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno added that “Amy will apply her strong Valley roots and decades of experience as she joins the Library of Congress in preserving our nation’s cultural diversity and rich traditions.”

The American Folklife Center’s board of trustees meets several times a year, in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere, to review operations, engage in long-range planning and discuss cultural programming. Board members include famed radio broadcaster Bob Edwards, formerly with National Public Radio and now host of “The Bob Edwards Show” on Sirius XM Radio.

It’s unclear what the Trump administration’s proposed domestic budget cuts, designed to offset a proposed 10 percent in defense spending, will mean for the Library of Congress and its constituent elements including the American Folklife Center. Currently, the center has a full-time staff of about 22 and an annual budget of about $3 million, not counting a separate budget-line item for the Veterans History Project.

This article was published on the McClatchy website on March 7, 2017.

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