Con Edison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter, Issue No. 59
Featured Interview: Christopher Mulé, Folk Art Director, Brooklyn Arts Council
Christopher Mulé earned a master’s degree in Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington. Prior to formally joining Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC), he served as the Deputy Director and Director of Folklife at Staten Island Arts (formerly COAHSI). In addition to his work at BAC, Mr. Mulé serves on the Board of Directors for the Ghanaian Association of Staten Island; a Liberian service organization called Napela; and as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the New York Folklore Society (NYFS).
We took the opportunity to find out more about his background, inspirations, and his recent appointment as Folk Arts Director at BAC.
Can you tell us more about your background? What motivated you to explore folk and traditional arts as your career?
I was exposed at a young age to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I witnessed music and culture wrapped in a strong sense of pride — locally and ancestrally — very different from the approach of mainstream music that I was surrounded by growing up. From that point on, I started exploring different forms of music and stumbled upon Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. From there I found that there was a strange subculture of people calling themselves “folklorists.”
I set out to explore this odd group, and found a wonderful network of incredible scholars, artists, and activists in New York City and beyond. I met people like Robert Baron (NYSCA), Steve Zeitlin (City Lore), Ethel Raim (Center for Traditional Music and Dance), Anna Lomax Wood (Association for Cultural Equity), Daniel Sheehy (Smithsonian Folkways), and Kay Turner (formerly BAC Folk Arts Director). They were incredibly supportive and encouraging, and still are. They are my heroes.
From there I went to the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University and got a master’s degree. I had wonderful mentors there, including Dr. Sue Tuohy (pictured above). It gave me an opportunity to think deeply about culture and heritage. From the beginning, it was a vocation; that came first. The hard part was turning that vocation into a career. The folks mentioned above showed me how to do that.
On March 3, you became the Folk Arts Director at Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) after being with Staten Island Arts for a significant time. As you transition into your new role, what direction and ambitions do you have for the program? What are the opportunities to serve folk and traditional artists? Are there any trends or challenges in the field that you are currently addressing, or would like to address?
As you might imagine, Staten Island and Brooklyn are very different. For instance: 500,000 people on Staten Island versus Brooklyn’s 2.5 million. I am very excited and honored to serve this borough. My predecessor, Dr. Kay Turner, created a wonderful archive filled with media/research (video, audio, photos, etc.). In the future, I would like to make these digital assets available to the communities from which it came, and turn them into social and cultural capital. It is one of my beliefs that this willempower communities to manage, share, and exchange their digital heritage. There are quite a few digital-humanities projects that I am modeling this after.
First and foremost, I am interested in moving our community festivals forward — that places more value and attention on the traditional arts. There are quite a few festivals that have disconnected from the traditional aspects inherent in their communities. I look forward to helping to enhance their efforts, whenever possible.
How do our artists stay connected with your activities and those of the Brooklyn Arts Council more generally? And regarding New York Folklore Society, where you are Vice President of the Board of Directors — any upcoming events or opportunities on the calendar you’d like our audience to know about?
The New York Folklore Society (NYFS) provides services to the field of folklore throughout the state. They also provide a number of services and opportunities to folk and traditional artists. I recommend that artists join NYFS — the organization distributes a magazine called “Voices.” As far as BAC goes, I recommend contacting me directly, at [email protected]. I am currently putting together a newsletter that will go out to artists and organizations involved in the folk and traditional arts, called “Brooklyn, Tradition Style.” You can sign up here. I will also be putting together some Meetups that will focus on professional development for heritage-based organizations and artists. You can sign up for those here.
On April 30, Brooklyn Art Council’s Folk Arts Program presented “The Sweetest Song Festival” at the Brooklyn College Library’s Woody Tanger Auditorium. Click here to view the closing performance, “Singing the Gods.”