Baton Rouge Folklife Survey

The Baton Rouge Folklife Survey is an initiative of the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program, a state agency. Since 1979, we have initiated projects to identify and document Louisiana's traditional cultures and art forms and share information about their traditions and art forms with the general public. Very little research has focused on Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes, so it is our current project.

See Traditions in Baton Rouge for photos of traditions already documented or identified in addition to traditions probably in Baton Rouge..

Emma Mensia Royal with some of her teacakes. Photo: Maria Zeringue

Baton Rouge is a diverse metropolitan community and the greater Baton Rouge area is a microcosm of the entire state and southern Mississippi. Every traditional culture group is here along with many immigrant groups. Much of Baton Rouge is relatively young as a community. A multicultural city where the local, native-born population is in the minority, Baton Rouge boomed since the 1960s and has a dispersed settlement pattern. With a few exceptions, neighborhoods are economically stratified rather than by cultural or ethnic groups. This makes many cultural groups less apparent. But hidden in suburban homes and inner city cottages are home altars and kitchens cabinets that feature hand carved saints.

Millitello's Shoe Repair. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Back yards have fig trees, satsuma trees, and medicinal herbs. This is where groups gather for barbeques, crawfish boils, and fish fries. Beyond the back yard, tailgaters mingle in stadium parking lots and pilgrims visit church altars. In backyard workshops, duck decoys are carved and mandolins made. Living rooms host jam sessions for bluegrass, blues, Cajun, zydeco, and since Hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras Indian practice. Hunters and fishermen arrive with the bounty of our state which becomes feasts for family and friends. In bedrooms, quilts and handmade dolls are created and shared.

Funders and Partners

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Library of Congress. The National Endowment for the Arts supports documentation of folk and traditional arts through a grant to the Louisiana Division of the Arts. The Library of Congress supports documentation of occupational traditions through an Archie Green Fellowship to Maida Owens and the Louisiana Folklore Society. The focus of the occupational traditions will be workers in small businesses with specialized skills.

Documentation of occupational traditions will be deposited in the Library of Congress's Occupational Folklife Project. All documentaiton will be deposited in the Folklife Program's Special Collection at Louisiana State University Library. Documentation of people in Baton Rouge will be deposited in the East Baton Rouge Parish Library's Baton Rouge Room Archive.

Completed Essays and Projects in Process

The following projects are either completed or in process.

  • Boudin, Teacakes, and Specialty Grocery Stores: Small Food Businesses in Baton Rouge - Maria Zeringue
  • Folk art traditions (chainsaw sculptors, bullwhip maker, saddlemaker, weavers, leather worker, metal fabricator, farrier, boatbuilder, heirloom seamstress, fly tyer) - Douglas Manger
  • Sac-a-lait Fishing - Douglas Manger
  • Fiber arts for a cause (quilting, sewing, knitting, crochet) - Laura Marcus Green
  • Welders making tailgating equipment, trailers, cooking implements, and folk art (sculptures, belt buckles, spurs) - Kevin McCaffrey
  • Body Adornment (hairstylists, barbers, tattoo artist, nail salon) - Kelley Fisher
  • African American Preaching Styles - Joyce Jackson
  • Bluesman Larry Garner - Joyce Jackson
  • Skilled workers in repair shops (furniture, watch, locksmith, etc.) - Jocelyn and Jon Donlon
  • Mardi Gras krewes - Jocelyn and Jon Donlon
  • Social clubs and societies of ethnic groups (Italian, Irish) - Jamie Digilormo
  • African American traditions photo essay - James Terry
  • Customs and oral traditions of veterinarians - Carolyn Ware
  • Customs and oral traditions of pet rescue groups - Carolyn Ware

Essays about Baton Rouge from Previous Projects and Other Sources

The following essays on the Folklife in Louisiana website are from previous projects, including the New Populations Project (2005-2011), the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, and the Folklife in the Florida Parishes Project (1984).

Participation by College Students

College faculty members are invited to participate by offering service learning opportunities for their students. Students could participate in a number of ways:

- write about a Baton Rouge tradition

- document a tradition either by personal observation or interviews

- term paper

- service learning class

- honors thesis

Students documenting a tradition through interviews would use the Louisiana Folklife Survey materials and would submit an essay and field materials (survey form, audio recording, photos) that would be submitted to the Folklife Program and archived. Signed Louisiana Folklife Survey forms are required for the work to be used in the larger project. See Folklife Surveys and the Survey Form. Materials will be deposited in the East Baton Rouge Library Baton Rouge Collection and Act of Donation forms are required. See The Baton Rouge Digital Archive.

Students doing a larger project, such as an honors thesis, could also submit a field report detailing their strategies and reporting on other details not included in the essay. A template for the field report can be provided.

Students can use the following folklife resources on the Folklife in Louisiana website (

Scholarship on Louisiana Folklife. These include essays about many genres and cultural groups in Louisiana.

Fieldwork Basics Overview. While this is written for K-12 educators, it can equally be used by community groups and college students. It links to all of the survey forms and resources to develop questions.