Perkins Center for the Arts is eager to explore the lesser known facets of Burlington County’s history and to amplify voices that haven’t had the chance to have their stories told. With a little help from a county grant, they have the opportunity to do just that.
The nonprofit organization was awarded a $8,320 Burlington County Grant to support the center’s H.E.A.R. We Are Burlington County project. H.E.A.R. stands for “Heritage, Evident And Relevant” and will shine a light on Burlington County’s history, culture and folk art through forums, a podcast and other means.
Perkins’ Folkife Director Karen Abdul-Malik will spearhead the project. She said the goal of the project is to identify some of the county’s culture keepers and help preserve and pass down their traditions.
“One thing at the Folklife Center is we’ve always wanted to connect deeply with communities,” she said. “In order to do that, you have to listen, and you have to build platforms to listen. You also have to have places that are safe and authentic.”
Abdul-Malik will begin her field research soon and is hoping to identify these county culture keepers. She’s looking for people who have lived in the county for five generations or more, people who have immigrated to the county, people who may have artistic legacies, people who have military legacies or people who have occupational legacies.
She said once these people have been identified, they’ll become part of the H.E.A.R. collective, which will become an ongoing conversation between these people and Perkins. Abdul-Malik said she envisions concerts, presentations and other outreach activities that will expose the community to local traditions.
Abdul-Malik’s hope is that through this project, these local culture keepers will see just how much value they add to local history.
“We want communities to hear stories of how people are connected within those communities,” she said.
Kahra Buss, executive director at Perkins Center for the Arts, said the project is another lens through which to view history. They’ll capture these stories and oral histories and document them via a podcast, which will, in a way, preserve these traditions.
Buss said one of the primary focuses for Perkins’ Folklife Center is amplifying diversity in South Jersey. She said the H.E.A.R. project will explore the cultural nuances and diversity of the area by sharing new stories.
“[H.E.A.R. is] taking time to hear other stories other than those that have been historically documented by predominantly white or affluent historians,” she said.
Buss said their hope is that at some point, the project will expand beyond Burlington County to also include Camden and Gloucester counties.
“It’s an opportunity for Perkins to grow and evolve even further and work deliberately in a space of amplifying the diversity of the region,” she said.
Anyone with a family legacy or historical connection to the region who would like to be considered for inclusion in the H.E.A.R. project can email Abudul-Mailk at firstname.lastname@example.org.