When we muse about “the arts,” it is often the fine arts that come to mind: famous plays, distinguished sculptures, celebrated paintings, and other aesthetic creations. However, art does not end at museum walls or with the last page of a book—art in many forms is present in ordinary life. For Dr. Lisa Higgins, witnessing the presence of traditional art in Missourians’ lives was an “empowering” experience that, together with her already “pervasive interest” in stories and storytelling, led her to undertake graduate work in folk studies at the University of Missouri. During the early nineties, she interned with the Missouri Folk Arts Program—a joint program of the Missouri Arts Council and MU’s Museum of Art & Archaeology—and gained first-hand experience with public folk art programs working to recognize and support Missouri artists. Working for the Southern Arts Federation (now South Arts) during the late nineties further piqued her interest in public support for the arts, and, with this experience under her belt, she returned in 1999 to her “dream job” as director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program and completed her PhD in Folklore and Rhetoric in 2008.
Sandy Rikoon has a lot on his proverbial plate. His work is hard to pigeonhole, except to say that, in general, it’s grounded in concern over both people and the environment. Since his academic discipline in rural sociology lives “at the intersection of basic and applied research,” it is the pursuit of “seamless connections” between his research, teaching, and outreach activities that drives Rikoon’s work.
Citing an analogy used by those in public health fields, Tina Bloom explains that health providers wait on the banks of the river to rescue people who have fallen in and are drowning. But Bloom wants to help more and help earlier. “At some point, you start to think about what’s happening upriver,” she says. As an assistant professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing, her research focuses on safety planning for women in abusive relationships; specifically, she is designing and testing a website that might help women find ways to lessen their danger.
Alex Barker wears several different hats in MU’s Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. One of these hats involves his research and fieldwork on the European Bronze Age and the ancient American southeast. The other involves the directorship of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Standing at the crossroads of several disciplinary fields, most of Barker’s field research has in recent years dealt with a single broad question: how social complexity grows out of egalitarian societies. His fieldwork in North America and the Old World follows this transition over different periods and regions.
We began this interview with the intent of focusing, as we usually do, on one person’s research. However, this query soon became—like the collaborative work it highlights—a joint project involving James R. Koller and Karen Weston of the Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education, two individuals working together to “think outside the box” by creating the Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in the Schools, now affectionately called “the Center” by its members. “The Center was created in response to the rising number of students in need of mental health services today,” states its homepage. It was initiated “as a paradigm shift that recognizes prevention as a fundamental element in supporting our nation’s youth facing developmental challenges, psycho-social issues, and environmental stressors within the school system and community . . . with the whole thrust being a paradigmatic shift from mental illness to mental health.” Of course, “you’re never going to get away from mental illness,” admits Koller, “but instead of waiting until pathology occurs, the question posed to me was how we can do something different. How can we better prepare consumers at all levels to be better informed so that we can create a positive learning environment for each learner and increase her or his self-concept, while academic learning flourishes?”
While studying Pentecostal women, Dr. Lawless noticed some of them were serving in leadership positions — which many religions don’t allow. This observation led her to study women who preached in other denominations and how they entered their service.
Dr. Elaine Lawless talks about how she first learned about the flooding of Pinhook, Missouri, and her decision to help tell the town’s story.
The Missouri Folk Arts Program’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program encourages the continued transmission of traditional and folk arts by providing an honorarium to master artist and apprentice teams. Missouri’s TAAP is one of the longest running and most prolific programs of its kind in the country.
The Community Scholars project taps into local knowledge of the folk and traditional arts by building relationships between MFAP and local experts and scholars. These individuals help keep the Missouri Folk Arts Program updated on developments in the traditional arts around the state, and in return MFAP offers training in digital recording, archiving, editing, project development and public presentation.
Dr. Higgins wants “kids [to] understand that they’ve known all their lives,” and talks about several of the Missouri Folk Arts Program’s initiatives to bring the folk arts to the schools.
Dr. Higgins talks about the history of public sector folklore and the mission of the Missouri Folk Arts Program, whose task is to “identify, document, and present folk and traditional arts in the state.”
The folk and traditional arts are deeply embedded in Missouri communities and have unique histories that distinguish them from other types of art. Dr. Higgins likes to describe these as “arts with a genealogy.” “The easiest way to understand the legacy is to ask, ‘When did you learn?’ and ‘Who did you learn from?’”
With the kind of scale that Dr. Eggert’s projects involve, collaboration is essential. Here she describes some of those collaborations and how they work.
Folklorist, sociologist, and environmentalist, Sandy Rikoon runs the environmental sociology program in the Department of Rural Sociology, where he teaches graduate courses in environmental sociology, advises students, and does research in the area of environmental sociology.
Only after encountering problems do many state and federal agencies call upon the expertise of social scientists for help, and Rikoon wishes they would ask for help while they set up a project—rather than afterward—to make sure the process fits with local norms.
Barker has also being doing fieldwork in the New World, especially in ancient Missouri and the Ancient Southeast and in more recent historical periods, from 1000 to 1500 CE across the American midcontinent. Art styles of all of those regions used the same basic symbols, apparently referring to the same basic concepts.
Most of Jim Koller’s past research and practice as a licensed psychologist was directed toward pathology, that is, “abnormal behavior.” But he became disillusioned with the then-current state of affairs, realizing that “we have to do something different to stop the escalating incidence of mental illness vis-à-vis mental health problems in the country.” With the cooperation of the Missouri state legislature and the Department of Mental Health, the Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in the Schools was conceived—“with the whole thrust being a paradigmatic shift from mental illness to mental health.”
In order to raise awareness of their research, Gompper and his team work closely with a number of agencies, including the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Arkansas Fishing Game Commission, and the U.S. Forest Services.
The Eastern Spotted Skunk is on the verge of extinction. Gompper discusses work in the region that aims to understand why various animals are on the decline and what can be done about it.