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 has 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 is workers in small businesses with specialized skills.

All documentation is being deposited in the Folklife Program's Special Collection at Louisiana State University Library. Documentation of occupational traditions has been deposited in the Library of Congress's Occupational Folklife Project.

Baton Rouge Traditions: A Virtual Book

Fieldworkers have documented traditions and written essays for the virtual book, Baton Rouge Traditions. The book also draws upon essays from past projects and other sources, including the New Populations Project (2005-2011), the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, and the Louisiana Voices Educator's Guide (1997-2010). The table of contents is still in development, but check it out for the current status of the work. See Traditions in Baton Rouge for photos of traditions already documented or identified in Baton Rouge.

Additional Sources about Baton Rouge

The following essays include additional information about Baton Rouge.

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.