Promoting Cultural Appreciation with TAUNY
Things I didn’t know four weeks ago:
Square dancing is still alive outside of elementary school gym classes.
Old machines and farm equipment don’t have to rust in a field until they disintegrate.
People actually remember the name of the summer camp their parents shipped them off to.
One thing I know four weeks later:
Tradition is vital to human understanding of and connection with the space one occupies.
When I arrived at St. Lawrence in August of my first year, I remember being handed, along with my room code and a free frisbee that many of my floormates later used as doorstops, a packet of information about Canton and the North Country. It had brochures from local shops and menus from local restaurants, alerting us to what would soon become our late night rituals. Three years later, as I am preparing to enter my senior year and the class of 2020 prepares to begin its SLU career, I find myself working for one of the organizations that is printing up cards to insert into those very same informational packets.
The Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) Center has graciously allowed me to work as a Media Assistant for the summer of 2016. On paper, my job description would read that I digitally process materials, photographs, and audio, and then create video segments for a TAUNY program. However, implicit in these tasks is developing a deeper appreciation for not only the North Country folk and traditional arts that TAUNY showcases, like basket-making and religious food festivals, but also for the “art” of understanding the societal structures upon which these traditions are built and the connections one makes with both physical space and with people.
My work at TAUNY centers around the Heritage Awards program, which honors people, organizations, or places that are special to the North Country. The 2016 recipients I have worked with so far are the Adirondack Playboys, the St. Lawrence Power & Equipment Museum, and 4-H Camp Overlook, and they each perpetuate their own separate and important traditions: for the Playboys, it’s the North Country’s unique brand of square dancing and old-time country music; for the Power & Equipment Museum, it’s the technologies that have contributed to life and work in the North Country; and for Camp Overlook, it’s the ability for North Country children to learn important outdoors skills and have experiences with other local children.
But not far underneath the surface, both influencing and maintaining these traditions, is the dedication of the local community. The Playboys were taught their instruments and their music by their family and community at barn dances throughout their youth. The Power & Equipment Museum has a community base that consistently donates antique pieces for the museum, as well as time, other resources, and manpower. Camp Overlook offers camp scholarships to local children in St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties to maintain its identity as a community camp. All of these groups rely on their community as a sort of engine, powering the traditions that make them special.
As first-year students, we were encouraged to engage with the community represented in that packet. They assured us the people here would be friendly, encouraging, and that this small town is worth getting to know. It’s hard not to agree when a place like TAUNY exists. Serving as a sort of community gathering place and playing a role in documenting the living history of the North Country, it helps locals understand the role they play as community members in North Country traditions. Despite not being a local, working toward TAUNY’s mission has helped me discover the significance of previously misunderstood North Country perspectives and ways of life, and that wherever you look, there’s always a community waiting to help.