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Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Goes Online

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The following guest post by Ann Hoog is part of a series of blog posts about the 40th Anniversary Year of the American Folklife Center. Visit this link to see them all!

The American Folklife Center is pleased to announce a new online presentation of the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection.  The photos and audio tracks embedded in this blog are all part of this exciting collection, which is the first of many American Folklife Center field survey collections that will be released online over the next several years.

Jazz Alley, 50th and Langley, Chicago, ca. July 10, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas. Fieldworker Ralph Metcalfe described “The Alley” between Champlain and Langley Avenues, 49th and 50th Streets, as “a Sunday afternoon ritual where people from the community and elsewhere in the city congregate to listen to one of several record players or live bands providing various interpretations of the music called jazz.” Local artists and food vendors also participated in this weekly year-round event.

Between 1977 and 1997, AFC conducted approximately 25 ethnographic field projects and cultural surveys in various parts of the United States resulting in a rich body of visual and aural documentation of our nation’s cultural heritage. In celebration of the AFC’s 40th anniversary in 2016, the Library is making these ethnographic collections available online to the public. By the time all these materials are online, they will total over a quarter million new items.  The collection allows users to browse photos, interviews, and performances of some of Chicago’s best traditional folk artists. See the photo below of John Georganas, and hear his interview and musical performances in the player below that. (Note: many of the audio recordings contain reference tones at the beginning of the tapes!)

Stella and John Georganas (holding bouzouki), Chicago, April 21, 1977. Mr. Georganas learned a variety of instruments in Greece and passed those traditions down to his children. The Georganas family performed frequently at local events. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas.

(You can also find the Georganas Family audio from the above player at this link.)

One example of a photo log sheet describing the content of a tray of slides, frame #7 describes the photo above. Thousands of such log sheets (for audio and photos) created by the fieldworkers are also available online.

This first collection to go online includes materials from the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project, a cultural survey that was conducted in 1977 by the American Folklife Center at the request of the Illinois Arts Council, to assess and document the status of ethnic art traditions in more than twenty ethnic communities in Chicago. The survey was jointly sponsored by both organizations and employed fourteen folklorists who were directed by the AFC. The ethnic groups studied were: African American, Austrian, Chinese, Croatian, Cuban, Czech, Danish, Finnish, German, Hispanic, American Indian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Korean, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Puerto Rican, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Swedish, and Ukrainian. The resulting collection includes approximately 344 sound recordings on tape reels and cassettes; 14,000 photographs; 270 folders of manuscript materials; 2 video recordings; and a number of publications, ephemera, and administrative files. [1] The final project report presented to the Illinois Arts Council summarized the current conditions and folk arts needs in a number of Chicago’s ethnic communities.

The online presentation includes the majority of the sound recordings and photographs from the Chicago collection. [2] Selected manuscripts are also online, including those materials created by the fieldworkers, the audio and photo logs, and final reports.

The staff of AFC is thrilled to be making these precious collections available as part of our 40th anniversary celebrations.  We hope you’ll enjoy the sights and sounds AFC has documented in our first 40 years at the Library of Congress!

Jørgen Hyland’s Hardanger fiddle, Evanston, June 6, 1977. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer. This elaborate appearance is typical of most Hardanger fiddles. Mr. Hyland learned to play Hardanger fiddle from an old Norwegian in his home town of Bergen, Norway (an area known for this style of fiddling), when he was about 10 years old.
Jørgen Hyland’s Hardanger fiddle, Evanston, June 6, 1977. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer. This elaborate appearance is typical of most Hardanger fiddles. Mr. Hyland learned to play Hardanger fiddle from an old Norwegian in his home town of Bergen, Norway (an area known for this style of fiddling), when he was about 10 years old.

(You can also find the Jørgen Hyland audio from the above player at this link.)


1. To be clear about the numbers, photographs were placed online in sets. The number of photographic items reported by the Library’s web interface is the number of sets, not the total number of photos, so it is much smaller than 14,000.  Visiting any of those photographic items will bring you to a set representing a single photo session.  On the other hand, the number of audio recordings shown by the interface is greater than the number of tapes in the collection. When the audio recordings were digitized, digital files were created representing one tape side each. The online collection includes just over 500 such sides.

2. There are a few items for which AFC is still awaiting permission to post online.  There are also manuscript items including personal information which will never be posted online to preserve the privacy rights of our consultants in the field.

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