Mass Cultural Council logo
Home / Blog / Agency Staffing / So Many Traditions, So Little Time

So Many Traditions, So Little Time

Maggie Holtzberg, Program Manager

a series of 5 images (left-right): Trinidadian American woman wearing a large ornate costume of reds, oranges, and yellows for carnival; Woman seated and older woman standing next to Russian iconography in a home studio, Sharon, 2007; Teenager and female mentor holding examples of Chinese red papercuts; Launch of a newly built wooden schooner into a creek; Man standing in leather apron with small Puerto Rican musical instrument he has made.
Images (top, left-right): Tamara Shillingford, Queen wearing large mas costume, Trinidad & Tobago Social Club, Boston Caribbean Carnival, 2007 (Photo by Maggie Holtzberg); Apprenticeship in Russian iconography, Sister Faith (sitting) and Ksenia Prokrovsky working on Russian iconography, Sharon, 2007 (Photo by Billy Howard); Apprenticeship in Chinese papercutting. Jason Wang (left) and Zhonghe Elena Li seated on couch holding red Chinese papercuts, Cambridge, 2023 (Photo by Maggie Holtzberg); Launch of newly built schooner Isabella at H.A. Burnham shipyard in Essex, 2006 (Photo by Maggie Holtzberg); Puerto Rican musical instrument makers William Cumpiano holding one of his cuatros.

It has been nearly 25 years since I came to Mass Cultural Council to manage the Folk Arts & Heritage Program. As I approach retirement at the end of December, I can honestly say that my job here has been more gratifying than I could have imagined. Working throughout the state has been a calling and privilege allowing me to get to know, learn from, and support a remarkable range of traditional artists and culture bearers. I regularly got out to visit with people carrying on traditions of locally defined significance, like Cambodian ceramicist Yary Livan firing ware in an arched woodburning kiln in Lowell or balafon player Balla Kouyaté playing for a West African baby shower in Dorchester. Imagine hearing an auctioneers’ chant competition, attending the side-launch of a newly built wooden schooner in Essex, watching a Caribbean Carnival procession on Blue Hill Avenue, or going underground with Tunnel Workers Local 88 during Boston’s Big Dig? What’s not to like?

photo of Maggie Holtzberg
Maggie Holtzberg. Photo: Matt Fortin.

One of the great joys of the work has been curating traditional arts programming for the public, introducing them to craft, music, and dance traditions of which they might be unaware. Some highlights include:

Maintaining a traditional arts practice takes commitment, passion, and time. Funding helps. Artist Fellowships in Traditional Arts and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants have helped revitalize many under resourced cultural traditions in Massachusetts. When things go well, apprenticeships like those captured in these short films, help ensure the continuity of traditional practices – ways of knowing-by-doing that might otherwise be lost.

For the hundreds of traditional artists and culture bearers who allowed us to visit and interview them, thank you! A fraction of our encounters are captured in blog posts but all of your words, images, and stories live on, safely housed in the Folk Arts and Heritage Collection at the Mass State Archives, digitally accessible to all.

So many traditions, so little time.

a series of 5 images (left-right): Three Aquinnah Wampanoag adults in regalia singing at fish weir celebration,  two women doing Irish step dancing on Cambridge city sidewalk, group of Italian men leading a procession of the Altar of Saint Mary of Carmen, man standing playing the West African balafon in a rehearsal space, group of four South Asian women and one child kneeling aside their recently made kolam design on a driveway.
Images (top, left-right): Aquinnah Wampanoag in deerskin Regalia at celebration of ancient fish weir on Boston Common, 2005. dancers and singers in regalia on Boston Common; Apprenticeship in Irish stepdancing with Emerald Rae (left) and Kieran Jordan; Procession of Saint Mary of Carmen, Newton, 2007; Balla Kouyaté playing the West African balafon in rehearsal space in Worcester, 2020; Five members of Tamil Makkal Mandram kneeling in front of a Kolam design they just create in a driveway, 2016. Photos by Maggie Holtzberg.

Back to Top