Folklorist Jon Kay Honored as Humanities Hero

Folklore Works, News from the Field
headshot of Jon Kay

Indiana Humanities names folklorist Jon Kay a “Humanities Hero,” a designation that highlights the work of public facing humanities scholars in Indiana.

In October 2022, Indiana Humanities named folklorist Jon Kay a “Humanities Hero,” a designation that highlights the work of public facing humanities scholars in Indiana. Jon Kay serves as executive director of Traditional Arts Indiana and is an associate professor of Folklore at Indiana University Bloomington, educating future generations about Indiana’s folk ways, arts and aging, and public practice.

Traditional Arts Indiana (TAI) was established in 1998 as a statewide program working to document and promote Indiana’s customs and folklife. As the program’s director, Kay founded the Heritage Fellowship program, one of three main initiatives of Traditional Arts Indiana. This program exists to celebrate the lifetime achievements of folklorists and traditional artists in the state and honor the communities of which they are a part.

Through programs like the Heritage Fellowship program and TAI’s Apprenticeship program, Kay collaborates with people within communities such as hoop net makers, banjo players, instrument makers and woodcarvers to document histories and traditions. His interest in and passion for traditional arts and folklore originates from his grandfather, who taught him that “all things have stories that are associated with them.”

As a public humanist and folklorist, Kay learns from communities and hopes to improve the cultural richness of life for others by passing on the knowledge. His dedication to traditional arts is wide-ranging, from teaching folklore courses to Indiana University students, to mentoring young practitioners nationwide, to conducting survey research that explores the creative practices of elders and how these practices support aging populations. Kay was also the executive producer of the Waterways film The Net Makers, which he produced in collaboration with Hannah Myers Lindgren.

When asked about the future of his field, Kay replied, “Some traditions may pass away, but I’m very optimistic about the fact that people will continue to create. People will continue to communicate through expressive practices and new traditions will emerge.”

You can learn more about Kay’s work here.

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