By Dean Poling
VALDOSTA — Lack of funding put an end to the South Georgia Folklife Project, but Valdosta State University Archives guaranteed the project’s work would be saved and made accessible to the public.
Now, the South Georgia Folklife Project and VSU Archives have won an award for their perseverance in preservation.
Their work won the American Folklore Society’s Brenda McCallum Prize. “Through this prize, the AFS Archives and Libraries Section seeks to promote works that further the cause of the preservation, organization, and dissemination of folklife collections,” according to the American Folklife Society. “The prize is given for an exceptional work dealing with folklife archives ...”
The Brenda McCallum Prize honors the VSU Archives Web site that preserves the work of the South Georgia Folklife Project and makes it more available to the public.
How this award came to pass is as much a tale of perseverance and preservation as the collection itself.
As director, Laurie Sommers brought the South Georgia Folklife Project to life. She traveled throughout South Georgia, collecting and preserving the region’s native culture through photographs, recorded interviews, recorded music performances, documentation. Through Sommers’ work, the project celebrated and preserved South Georgia culture and, in many cases, portions of the region’s vanishing ways of life.
The project was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and other grants. In 2005, however, VSU’s budget did not include matching funds and, after a decade of work, the project came to an end.
The South Georgia Folklife Project and Sommers’ work could have vanished like many of the cultural subjects she covered, but Deborah Davis of VSU Archives did not let that happen.
For numerous months, Davis and her Archives students John Taylor, Mike Holt and Stacey Wright meticulously went through nearly 40 boxes of project materials. They typed text into the computer, indexed materials, transferred recordings onto CDs and prepared them for the Internet.
Taylor digitized. Holt prepared the database. Wright dealt with all paper documents. These students kept the project alive, made it available to the public, and won the award, Davis says. Jack Fisher is also named as a recipient of the Brenda McCallum Prize.
For Sommers, the VSU Archives work has kept her project work viable.
“This has been a way to keep it accessible and alive even though the Folklife Project ended,” Sommers says. “Now, there is something tangible and on-going.”
To visit the site that won the award, see www.valdosta.edu/library/find/arch/folklife/