Last Tuesday kicked off Mercyhurst’s 2017 Literary Festival. Kelly Armor, of the Erie Art Museum, presented her work on ethnic music and the culture the music came from. .
Armor started the Folk Art Program at the museum, and has received nothing but positive responses. The program is based on building traditional artists within the Erie region and helping them continue their art.
Erie is home to some 10,000 former refugees who have had to flee their homeland, come to a strange new country and become self-sufficient in a matter of months. Armor took into consideration the fact that there are more artists in the refugee population who have a desire to continue sharing their culture than in the general population.
“These people have so much world knowledge it would be a waste not to tap into it,” said Armor. “These people have an incredible world view, while ours sometimes is so specified.”
From that sparked the Folk-Art Program called “Old Songs New Opportunities.” The program includes any refugee women who wish to share and preserve their traditional children’s songs and games, and the program provides these women with childcare training.
“A lot of women when they come here stop singing to their kids, but this program has helped them continue to sing,” Armor said.
Armor brought with her to Mercyhurst a former refugee woman named Mishu, who is from the Republic of Congo. Mishu shared her story with the students and taught multiple traditional songs from her culture.
“Singing in my culture is so incredibly important because it makes you happy to sing if you are sad,” Mishu said.
She and Armor shared many songs with the audience and got every student involved Although at the beginning, some participated more willingly than others, by the end every student was up out of their seat clapping and singing along.
Armor stated that here in the United States, we often are too caught up in the mindset that we cannot sing because we are not talented or famous.
“Other cultures embrace singing because it brings wealth and, well, frankly, everyone can sing,” Armor said.
Overall, Armor informed the group that this program not only highlights the importance of preserving traditional music, but also makes hundreds of former women refugees finally feel like they are at home.
“The songs are like little passports,” said Armor. “It gives you an intuitive sense of culture that is really hard to get any other way.”