Apr 17, 2014

GraduateSPeek: Interview With Jessica Guild By Jessica Wall

Here is a wonderful article about Jessica Guild, by Jessica Wall.  Both are graduates of the MACS program, living life large and doing the things that matter to them.  They met in the program and have continued to be friends and colleagues in the real world.  These are the kinds of connections we foster and hope for in the MACS program.

Interview With: Jessica Guild By Jessica Wall

GraduateSPeek: A Peek at what MACS Graduates are up to.

Mar 26, 2014

Stream of Consciousness: My Immersion in the MACS Program

I am a force of nature.  Those are the words that were ascribed to my character on the very first day of class.  I wasn’t sure how someone came to that conclusion having known me for so few hours, but I embraced the affirmation.  I knew without a doubt that it hit the nail on the head…what better words could capture my passion, my enthusiasm, my emotions, my righteous indignation, my rage, my joy and my exhilaration at the thought of being a part of this incredible experience.  I immediately associated these feelings with my memories of standing on the shores of a pristine white sand beach in Miami, surrounded by clear turquoise blue water with white foam on top of gently cascading waves. 

Beach pics 2

As I can’t swim, I was fearful of the vastness of the ocean; but for some reason I was drawn to be a part of the wonderful sensation of getting drenched with warm salty water to get cooled from the sun.  I didn’t dare go beyond knee deep when suddenly I realized that the sand had firmly grasped both of my ankles as the tide pulled away from the shore, holding me captive in that spot.  It was then that I saw the wave, at first just a ripple, then swelling in height as it barreled toward me.  The others around me excitedly waited to jump as the wave crested…I was petrified but thought I’d give it a try.  As the wave came closer, I felt the incredible suction under my feet and thought this would be the last that would ever be seen of me.  I jumped just as the sand released its grip; I was amazed that instead of overwhelming me, the wave embraced me from the shoulders down, refreshing me while carrying me back onto the shore.  It had taken me in a completely different direction from where I began.   I thought, Wow – what an awesome and powerful force of nature!  Yes, I’d like to be thought of in those terms.

Then, there is the other force of nature that is a part of me.  Now that we are back to our real lives, away from the nurturing serenity of the residency environment, at times I feel like a tornado spinning wildly out of control, that is both random and deliberate in sucking up everything in its path and tossing it about.  It’s chaotic and frenetic with no clear indication of when it will be finished with its fury. The unstable atmosphere converges as the cyclone whirls amidst its sister forces of wind, rain, hail, lightning and thunder.  It stirs up without warning, so it creates an atmosphere of frantic panic all around it.  When it’s over, the skies immediately become deceptively beautiful…if it weren’t for the destruction and debris strewn about, you would never even have known it happened.  You assess the damages, let go of what you’ve lost, pick up the pieces that are most important and start anew.  Tornadoes are what haunt me in my nightmares. 

I think I’ll go back to the beach.

This was a stream of consciousness reflection that I wrote to depict my feelings after my first residency in the Cultural Sustainability Masters Degree program at Goucher.  I’ve found that this writing tool has become very useful for calming my mind and emotions so that I can gain a clearer focus on what it is going to take to make it through this intensive program.  Although written in literal terms, each force of nature represents what I have experienced so far metaphorically speaking. The exuberance I experienced during the residency is irreplaceable.  It was a crucial part of establishing the foundation and support network necessary to be successful in this unique learning environment.  I found the atmosphere and the people surrounding me so nurturing and encouraging that I felt invincible for those nine days.  The thought provoking dialogue and introspective reflection that was a part of every class, every meal, and every walk has broadened my horizons exponentially.  I am so grateful to be a part of this emerging group of cultural pioneers.  It was a glimpse into my future.

However, this depth of interactive immersion can lull one into a false sense of security.  We all had to return home, limited to sporadic electronic communication and interaction and independent study.  It only took five days back in “the real world” to clutter my brain with triviality and to shake my confidence that my voice could possibly make a positive difference in my community, my work place, a cultural group or the world around me.  I initially found it challenging to filter through all of the information, reading materials, discussions, technology and other resources that I absorbed during the Fall and Winter residencies, and the subsequent online coursework between.  It was also difficult for me to process and compartmentalize these new concepts so that I could mentally retrieve the applicable bits and bytes as necessary for practical application in other courses and in real world scenarios.  As an adult learner, I began to experience sensory overload in my attempts to balance graduate studies, full time employment and most importantly my responsibilities to home and family.

Despite my initial difficulties in adjusting to this learning modality, I quickly discovered what an incredible network of support I have through the MACS program.  From the amazingly knowledgeable and skilled instructors/advisors to the wonderfully diverse colleagues from my residency group (and other students in the Master’s degree programs), I’ve found myself surrounded by a caring, intelligent and passionate group of likeminded individuals who, together, help each other to grow their potential in their cultural pursuits throughout the online and residency portions of this program.

My diverse background encompasses a lifelong passion for creativity, culture, and a love for inspiring others. Over the years, I have integrated elements of these passions into my educational and career experiences, whether in the arts, media, or most recently, the public sector. I’ve found success in each of these endeavors, but success does not necessarily equate with fulfillment. As this year I have reached my 50th year milestone, the MACS program has initiated a new chapter in my life allowing me to once again be passionate about my work, pursue doing what I love most, and to inspire others to do the same. I plan to take the knowledge I acquire through this program, blend it with my work and life experience, and apply it in ways that make a positive contribution to an ever-evolving social infrastructure. I hope to:

  • Encourage sharing and preservation of family history between generations to promote cultural awareness, self-worth and social relativity;
  • Rediscover, record, and give honor to little known facets of African American heritage, the untold history of people of color in the United States, and;
  • Inspire people to live up to their potential by understanding their heritage, recognizing their achievements, embracing their passions, pursuing their purpose, and uplifting others.

As I think about how much I’ve learned and experienced in this first year of the program, I now recognize how each element will ultimately form the fundamental principles that will totally reshape my world view and how I choose to connect and interact with humankind.  That being said, pursuing Goucher’s unique Master of Arts in Cultural Sustainability was a crucial step in establishing an educational foundation to propel me onto a new pathway in my life’s journey – one of personal fulfillment and social accountability.  It was perhaps one of the most important decisions I have ever had to make in my life; I can honestly say that it was definitely the best.

Carol Crop 3 Carol Brooks is beginning her second year of the MACS program and aspires to someday serve as an advocate for creative placemaking and community building efforts by facilitating intergenerational dialogue, cross-cultural mediation and exposition of socio-economic disparity. She lives and works in Baltimore County, MD and has enjoyed a successful career in the public sector in the realm of Workforce Development, currently employed as Labor Market Analyst for a local Economic and Workforce Development organization. She has a passion for the arts, theater and dance, and enjoys inspiring and encouraging others.
Mar 12, 2014

Student Blog | Michele Anderson

This month’s student blog piece was written by Michele Anderson for Americans for the Arts.  Michele is a MACS student who is currently working on her Capstone.  She lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and is expected to graduate this summer.  Her blog looks at the role of young artists in addressing vital questions in sustaining rural communities.

Young Artists in Small Towns: Contexts of Creativity by Michele Anderson

Feb 27, 2014

Curious about the MACS program? Join an upcoming virtual info sessions for prospective MACS students!

The MA in Cultural Sustainability program at Goucher College has announced its upcoming virtual information sessions for prospective students.

The limited-residency MACS program empowers today’s changemakers with the tools to support, advocate for, and lead during these complex and challenging times. Whether your passion is for protecting and enriching communities or developing innovative solutions to address our most pressing social and environmental issues, this may be the program for you.

You are invited to learn more about this innovative degree program by attending a virtual information session.

Virtual Information Sessions via Skype
(Connect to us at: cultureatgoucher)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
3:00 – 4:00 p.m. E.S.T.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. E.S.T.

If you are unable to make one of the above sessions, a representative of the MACS program would be happy to talk to you one on one.  Please RSVP or set up a time to chat one-on-one by sending an email to 
culture@goucher.edu or call 800-697-4646

Feb 12, 2014

GraduateSPeek – Deborah Spears Moorehead (2013)

With this blog, we are launching a series of posts that feature the work of graduates from the MACS program.  In December 2013, Deborah Spears Moorehead (2013) was interviewed for Cultural Survival, a non-governmental organization founded in the 1970s to help Indigenous Peoples in their struggles for human rights, sovereignty, and autonomy.  In this essay, Deborah talks about her art, her beliefs in an “artistic cultural democracy”, and how her studies at Goucher College helped to bring them together by giving her paintings a voice.  For her Capstone, Deborah researched the history of her family’s tribe in order to prepare their application for federal recognition.  She lives and creates art in Rhode Island.

Read Deborah Spears Moorehead’s interview

Jan 13, 2014


It happens every year!  After the wrapping paper is recycled and the thank-you notes are written, I find myself reflecting back on the whole gift-giving experience with friends and family.  It is a tradition I approach annually with both anticipation and trepidation.  Do people need more stuff?  Have I been thoughtful in my choices or simply pressured into an activity ingrained in my seasonal rhythms over the years?

How did this tradition come to us?  Some faithfully attribute gift-giving to the reverence of the Three Kings who brought gifts to a baby Jesus.  Others connect the tradition to the earlier Roman celebration of Saturnalia held in December to honor abundance and the return of light.  Still others see the blossoming of gift-giving as a way to shift the attention of the holiday to children, especially with the appearance of the gift-giving Santa Claus in the early 1800s.  Regardless, gift-giving has found its way into many fall/winter holiday traditions, including Eid al-Fitr, Chanukah and Kwanzaa.

Certainly, when I was a child, it was the pile of gifts that marked Christmas for us.  And, with five children, my parents had their work cut out for them.  Our Christmas mornings were a cacophony of ripping paper, mechanical toys chased by barking dogs, music on the stereo, and squeals of excitement and gratitude yelled across the room.   But at some point I transitioned from gift-receiver to gift-giver.  We all do, continuing a cycle of values modeled by those who first gave to us; whether for Christmas, a birthday or some other celebration that involves the giving of gifts.  As we grow into our own gift-giving philosophy, we may change some of those values (i.e. handmade vs store bought; time together vs an object; one big gift vs lots of little gifts), but the tradition of giving remains.  And each year I try to be wiser, or at least more thoughtful about the act of giving.  What is it that we accomplish by the act of giving gifts?

Lewis Hyde, in his seminal work The Gift (a foundational reading for the MACS program) explores the concept of the gift economy as a critical element in nurturing the values and traditions that sustain communities.  He despairs that our culture is defined by money and an economy shaped by the power to buy and sell commodities.  While he is especially interested in the artist’s gift of creative talent with its boundless and reverberant nature, his ideas resonate with any form of gift-giving or receiving.   He suggests that “we suffer gratitude” when a gift is received and that suffering “enlivens us.”   Gratitude compels a sense of reciprocity.  We might give a gift in return, offer a kindness, or draw the giver more deeply into our confidences.  Such reciprocity weaves the strands of our community more closely together, thus extending the power of the gift, the kindness, the connection “around the corner” and sometimes out of sight.   Gifts, or perhaps more accurately the act of giving/receiving, reinforces the flow and vitality of connections within families, circles of friends and communities.  We are talking about pretty big stakes, when you think about gift-giving in this light.

But there are greater stakes.  If we expand the idea of the gift beyond the handmade or store bought item, beyond the artistic talents of creative people, we arrive at the deeper, ancient gifts of culture.   These gifts embody and transfer the knowledge, values and traditions so precious to us that we are driven to pass them on from one generation to the next.  These gifts have crossed oceans, survived atrocities, dodged bullets and found their way into the very essence of who we are; a lullaby echoing the voice of your grandfather, a baking lesson with your mother, a gardening pattern that cultivates your sense of place, a ritual that connects you to the divine, a story diverting you from danger.  These are the gifts that, if treasured, just might allow us to live peaceably on this planet.

There is clearly a continuum of gift-giving.  Birthday or holiday gifts are given with intention; with our hands, if you will.  Artistic talents and cultural gifts are more innate, given with heart.  But each is an act of generosity and in the giving or transferring has the capacity to enact kindnesses and reciprocity. Imagine if each gift given or received could foster peace and interconnectedness?

As we ramp up to another residency, I look forward to digging more deeply into the soil/soul of the MACS program to discover together the gifts that the students and faculty bring to our community of practice.  The time we share during the residency is its own gift – one that allows us to imagine what is precious in our communities and how we might work to sustain that which we treasure.


Hyde, Lewis. 2007. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. New York: Vintage Books.

skillman-headshot1 Amy Skillman, M.A.
Academic Director
As a folklorist, Skillman works at the intersection of culture and tension, where paying attention to culture can serve to mediate social change. She advises artists and community-based organizations on the implementation of programs that honor and conserve cultural traditions, guides them to potential resources, and develops programs to help build their capacity to sustain these initiatives. Drawing on extensive research and documentation, Skillman has developed a variety of public programs that bring awareness to issues of importance in these communities. Her work has included an oral history/leadership empowerment initiative with immigrant and refugee women in Central Pennsylvania, a Grammy-nominated recording of old time fiddlers in Missouri, and a yearlong arts residency with alternative education high school students rooted in the ethnography of their lives. Skillman recently curated a major traveling exhibition that examines the role of folk arts as a catalyst for activism in communities throughout Pennsylvania. She received her Masters degree in Folklore and Folklife from the University of California, Los Angeles and her Bachelor of Arts from St. Lawrence University in a self-designed major in Cultural Minorities and the Immigrant Experience.
Jan 10, 2014

Sustainable tourism is about more than being “green”

In a brief article on iOL Travel, Claire Allison, the marketing manager of Open Africa, insists that travelers must go beyond booking an eco-lodge or enviro-tour if they are truly concerned with sustainable travel.  While there is certainly a strong argument that travel in itself goes against the goals of sustainability, if we (as travelers) are aiming to make the least amount of negative impact and, better still, looking to find ways to positively support the places we visit, we must consider the environment and the local people, economy, and cultures.  ”Sustainable travel,” Allison states, “is about environmental, economic and socio-cultural sustainability and tourism needs to be sustainable in these three areas to be considered ‘sustainable tourism.’”  I tend to agree with this overall sentiment, but what I find problematic with the article is that it is still written from a tourist-centric perspective.  Allison writes that, “Socio-cultural sustainability is about including the local people in a tourist venture by employing them and minimising the negative impacts of increased tourist traffic. It’s also about preserving the local traditions, which offers travelers an authentic experience.”  Rather than suggesting that local people be included by being employed by a tourist venture, how about suggesting that local people be in control of the tourist venture, or at minimum, that they are consulted?  And perhaps better than “preserving local traditions” with the goal of offering “travelers an authentic experience,” shouldn’t the goal again be less about the traveler and more about leaving decisions – regarding what and how traditions are preserved – in the hands of the practitioners?

In the article, Allison offers a few tips many of us are familiar with, including purchasing items from local artists and eating foods sourced locally.  How do you define “sustainable travel?”  What tips do you have for other travelers, as well as those engaged in the business of sustainable tourism, and/or communities that are frequented by travelers interested in environmental and cultural tourism?

Dec 19, 2013

Finding Hope Through Common Threads

While attending Dr. Anderson’s Cultural Documentation class during the MACS residency in July and August 2013, I met Mary Briggs, a guest speaker who works with the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in Pittsburgh and the Arlington County Cultural Affairs in Virginia.  Ms. Briggs mentioned the Awesome Foundation, a straight-forward, no-strings-attached grant that is “devoted to forwarding the interest of awesomeness in the universe.”  There’s a simple application and selection process, and the Awesome Foundation awards $1,000 grants monthly to organizations in a wide range of areas, including technology, arts, social good, and beyond.  When I heard this, I immediately had a dream and vision of how I would use the money to help a group of resettled refugee women in my local community maintain their cultural identity and traditional weaving skills.

Four years earlier, while studying for my Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Anthropology at the University of North Florida, I began volunteering with refugees from Myanmar (Burma) who had been resettled to my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.  I was amazed by the intricately-woven handmade clothing that they used in functional ways, such as blankets for sleeping, slings for carrying newborns and infants, ropes for lashing firewood together, etc.  The items all looked like individual pieces of artwork that should be preserved and appreciated to share the stories of the people who created them.  After graduation in 2010, my husband and I moved to the Thailand-Burma border, where we immersed ourselves in the refugee camps and day-to-day lifestyle of refugees from Burma for two years.  On numerous occasions, I observed women happily weaving clothing and textiles by hand for their family on looms that were also handmade out of bamboo poles and leather straps.


After two years of living abroad along the Thailand-Burma border, I returned to Jacksonville and began organizing a group of resettled refugee women who were interested in maintaining their unique cultural heritage.  The women are of different ethnic sub-groups from Burma, including Kachin, Karen, Chin, and Shan ethnicities, and these groups would not normally associate with one another.  The women meet weekly to engage in their traditional handicrafts, such as weaving, knitting, crocheting, etc.  While doing so, they discuss topics of interest to them, including women’s health, parenting and motherhood, financial concerns, etc.  To advance the group, I applied for (and was fortunate enough to receive) a $1,000 grant from the Awesome Foundation to support the group, which came to be known as “Hope Through Common Threads.”  With the grant money, we have purchased sewing machines, supplies such as yarn and needles, and raw materials to build new looms, as well as to rent space at local arts and crafts markets for selling the final products.

Yay Bwe with her loom

Initiatives such as “Hope Through Common Threads” are not new to the US.  Similar organizations exist in multiple cities around the country.  However, I saw that such an organization did not exist in my local community of Jacksonville, Florida.  My vision is that the organization can expand to resettled refugees from other countries and parts of the world, including the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa.  Anyone who is interested in maintaining their traditional handicrafts and traditions is welcome to join in!  Ultimately, I think that the organization can help resettled refugees preserve their cultural identity, raise awareness of themselves within the greater community, generate additional revenue, and reduce their dependence upon social services organizations and financial support.

Kachin knitted skirts

I know that the MACS program at Goucher College will provide me with the knowledge and skills to work side-by-side and collaborate with the group to sustain their individual and community identities and foster their entrepreneurial spirit to create their own self-sustaining projects.  As I learned during my first course, Introduction to Cultural Sustainability, William Westerman states in his article “Wild Grasses and New Arks: Transformative Potential in Applied and Public Folklore” that the practice of creating the art (weaving, for example) is just as important as the finished product itself.  When the women of “Hope Through Common Threads” engage in their traditional handicrafts, they are preserving the skills that have been passed down to them from multiple generations of their ancestors.  They are creating bridges to their own past, and they are creating cultural bridges between each other.


Amber Dodge (Right)

Amber Dodge is a first-year student in the MACS program.  She currently works as an Orientation Specialist in the Youth Department of Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, preparing recently-resettled families of refugees to send their children into America’s public school system.  Amber earned a Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.  She and her husband, Steve, moved to the Thailand-Burma border to work with refugees in the refugee camps prior to their resettlement to the United States from 2010 until 2012.  Amber is interested in Southeast Asian culture, learning Burmese language, and maintaining traditional weaving techniques.  She currently has two young cats, a brother and sister named Theodore and Phoebe, who were rescued from the local Animal Care and Protective Services department.

Dec 10, 2013

An ancient village, a modern shopping center: Can heritage and development coexist?

While developers move forward with their plans to build a new shopping complex in downtown Miami, archaeologists are looking back at the history beneath.  They have discovered that the site – one of the last remaining undeveloped lots in the area – was once quite likely a Tequesta village.  Will developers proceed as planned? Or will they see the value in protecting and sharing a piece of the past with future visitors?  Can cultural heritage and development coexist in a way that is mutually beneficial?   Share your thoughts below and find out more about the discovery and the possibilities with NPR’s article here.

Nov 27, 2013

Thanksgiving: The birth of – and questions surrounding – this American tradition

Many families across the US will gather together tomorrow to feast and give thanks.  But how many have ever questioned the true origins of the Thanksgiving holiday tradition?  Indian Country Today Media asked the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Ramona Peters, to share the Wampanoag side.

As a child, what were you told about the history behind Thanksgiving?  What do you tell your own children?  Do you celebrate this holiday? If so, how?  If not, why not?  Please leave your comments below.