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.
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?’”
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.
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.