The Alabama Center for Traditional Culture (ACTC) is a division of the Montgomery-based Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA) and was created in 1990 with the mission of studying, documenting, presenting, and preserving all aspects of the state's folklife. It is a partner of the Alabama Folklife Association (AFA) and the Archive of Alabama Folk Culture at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The center produces programming and supports traditional artists and folk practitioners throughout the state.
Alabama's folklife encompasses the unique forms of traditional culture that have developed over time in the state's many communities. These communities share aspects of folk culture that have evolved through historical experiences, ethnic heritage, language, occupations, religions, and geographic areas. The folk expressions produced by these groups identify and symbolize these communities, enlivening and giving meaning to the lives of all Alabamians. By studying, documenting, and presenting the folkways, or traditional culture, of communities and individuals throughout the state, the ACTC hopes to bring the power, beauty, diversity, and significance the products of Alabama's folklife to all its citizens.
Between 1989 and 1994, ACTC and AFA jointly promoted local traditions through public events such as the annual Alabama Folk Festival. Presentations included gospel jubilee singing, Creek Indian basketry, folk pottery, Sand Mountain saddle making, blues concerts, shape-note singing, coastal fishing folk tale readings, and regional religious holiday celebrations. Since 1994, ACTC staff have edited Tributaries, the annual journal of the AFA, as an outlet for research and writing on the state's folklife.
ACTC administers those grants programs of ASCA that relate to traditional folk culture. Project grants help non-profit organizations document, present, and preserve the state's folk culture. Folk Arts Apprenticeship grants provide funds to master folk artists who are interested in taking on apprentices and preserving that traditional way of passing on skills. The Alabama Folk Heritage Award is given every other year to an outstanding traditional artist or folk-arts practitioner in recognition of excellence and lifetime achievement and is part of the Governor's Arts Awards program. Recipients have included quilters, potters, shape-note singers, fiddlers, basket makers, and blues musicians.
The ACTC produces many types of programming and promotional materials, including newspaper articles, radio programs, exhibitions, films, CDs, and Web sites. For example, in 1995 ACTC produced a book and companion CD on traditional religious music in the state called In the Spirit: Alabama's Sacred Music Traditions. The center also developed traveling exhibitions such as "Waterways," which focuses on river and coastal culture, and "In the Garden," which explores Alabama horticultural traditions. "Culture and Community," a large exhibition presented at the state capitol in 1996, featured artifacts and interpretive text panels relating to many facets of Alabama folklife. The Traditional Music of Alabama CD series, produced by ACTC, explores specific genres of Alabama's traditional music, such as Sacred Harp singing. It also develops and hosts public presentations, school programs, and symposia, often partnering with colleges and universities, local arts agencies, libraries, schools, museums, and other cultural organizations throughout Alabama. It is staffed by a director, three folklorists, and an administrative assistant.
Alabama Center for Traditional Culture. Traditional Musics of Alabama. 4 vols. Compact discs. Montgomery: Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, 2001–4.
Schmidt, Aimee. Alabama: Culture and Community. Montgomery: Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, 1997.