Alumni Spotlight

“These various experiences prepared me to attain a job as a public folklorist,” writes Wilkins, now Traditional Arts Specialist for the Folklife Department of the Tennessee Arts Commission. “This is certainly the kind of position that I envisioned having at some point. I’m relatively new to Tennessee, so I’m really looking forward to learning about the rich traditions that comprise the state’s cultural landscape. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help Tennessee’s various racial, ethnic, and cultural communities preserve and promote their folklife and traditional arts.”

In his position, Wilkins connects various folklife organizations and events to resources through the Tennessee Arts Commission grant program. He helps manage and document folk artists participating in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, and conducts fieldwork around the state in order to identify folklife events and traditional artists that may be good fits for the above programs.

He also credits a book he read, Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University, by Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov, as helping him find his footing in the field. “[The book] details how folklorist Alan Lomax and three African American professors from Fisk University in Nashville, most notably musicologist/folklorist John W. Work III, came together to conduct fieldwork within Black communities in the Mississippi Delta,” writes Wilkins. “Learning about the contributions of these African American scholars was affirming and showed me that I had a place in this field. As an African American folklorist/ethnomusicologist in Nashville, I’m honored and excited to be able to continue their legacy.”

The Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program defines folklife as being “comprised of arts, expressive practices, and skills that are learned and passed down in cultural communities that share family, ethnic, tribal, regional, occupational, or religious identity.” The website includes links to grants, the apprenticeship programs, and a list of different folk artists.

Wilkins points to his active work in the public sector, where he received plenty of practical experience, as giving him the skills necessary for his job. “I would suggest that students make sure to keep their options open and try to diversify their work experiences as much as possible,” Wilkins writes. “As you are completing your graduate studies, be sure to engage both academia and the public sector as much as you can. Pursue practicums, fellowships, and internships that are public facing. Also, initiate your own public-sector projects that show your ability to turn your scholarly interest into something that will appeal to general audiences. You should certainly follow your particular dreams, but it can’t hurt to be as marketable as possible.”