Jersey Roots, Global Reach

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About the New Jersey Folk Festival

NJFF Aerial Photo

In addition to providing educational opportunities to festival goers, the NJFF also provides students with a laboratory where they learn leadership and management skills. The festival is the end-product of a special three-credit class which offers undergraduate instruction in running a folk festival and the public presentation of culture. The NJFF is one of only a handful of folk festivals in the U.S. managed by undergraduate students. The students are responsible for all aspects of advertising, planning, and producing an event that celebrates the diverse multicultural and indigenous folk life of New Jersey and the surrounding region.

When the festival was created in 1975, only two students were involved in its organization and management. Today, fourteen students serve on the planning committee, which meets for three hours once a week under the direction of faculty advisors Angus Gillespie and Erin Clarke. During the first half of the class, the students learn about folklore and cultural studies including the distinction between "traditional" versus "revival" folk music, theoretical problems associated with publicly presenting ethnic culture, the history and aesthetic sensibilities of the craft presenters and performers, as well as more practical instruction in how to write press releases or conduct radio interviews. The second half of the class functions as a business meeting, complete with progress reports from coordinators, "breakaway" management team work sessions, and problem-solving.

The student coordinators form a closely-knit team, where they develop leadership and management skills, written and verbal communication, personal assertiveness, and time management. The class is part of the curriculum of the American Studies Department of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

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