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A sampling of folklife and cultural tourism projects in the U.S.
Case Study: The Portland Oregon Visitors Association
The Portland Oregon Visitors Assoc. and Oregon Historical Society
The Portland Oregon Visitors Association (POVA) contracted with the Oregon Folklife Program of the Oregon Historical Society to conduct the research and write the draft for a series of four self-guided tours of some of Portland's oldest ethnic neighborhoods. POVA then worked with a professional travel writer and designer to create the finished tours, which are now available in brochure form as well as on the POVA website (http://www.pova.com/visitor/index.html). The brochures are available at visitors' centers and by mail for those calling or writing POVA.
Oregon is perceived by outsiders to be lacking in cultural diversity so the Oregon Convention and Visitor Services Network and POVA were committed to working together to create informational tourism products on Portland's ethnic diversity. Each hoped that such materials would encourage ethnic associations and businesses that hold annual conventions to choose Portland as one of their future sites. Portland is also a major tourist destination for Asians and other visitors who are interested in learning about the cultural and ethnic offerings of the city.
The partnership between POVA and Oregon Folklife Program came about when Folklife Director Nancy Nusz had an informal discussion with POVA's Director of Cultural Tourism, Barbara Steinfeld, suggesting ways that folklorists are uniquely qualified to enhance the work she was doing in the field of cultural tourism. Subsequently, Steinfeld accepted a bid from Nusz for the Folklife Program to provide the research and some photographs as well as to write a draft of the texts for the series. The Folklife Program contracted with folklorist Eliza Buck to do the work research.
Four "Portland Cultural Tours" brochures are now available—one each for Portland's Chinese-American, African-American, and Japanese-American communities and the last on World Cultures of Portland, which includes over a dozen other significant ethnic groups in Portland. The theme of the fourth brochure was originally supposed to be on the region's Latino community, however, after Buck did some preliminary research POVA decided there were not enough physical sites for visitors to go to, and, therefore, the subject did not warrant an entire brochure. However, after the Cinco de Mayo Community organization saw the other brochures, they wanted the Latino culture represented in the series and were willing to do the work themselves. That brochure is scheduled for the future.
Eliza Buck's research involved "going into the community and talking to people about what was important for outsiders to learn about their community and what sites they felt were visitor-friendly." When she completed her research it was first reviewed and edited by Nusz and others at the Oregon Historical Society, then by staff at POVA. Buck then took the edited text to individual community leaders whom she had originally talked with for their review, feedback and final approval.
In one instance, when Buck was feeling unsure about the best way to present the Japanese community, she asked community leaders to review an early draft of her research text to see if she was "on track." She was very glad she did because Japanese community leaders, many of whom have lived in Portland all their lives, felt strongly that focusing on the cultural traditions of Japanese people in Oregon without talking about their participation in the broader American society might inadvertently play into stereotypes of Japanese people as not really American.
Buck was then able to draft a text emphasizing how the Portland Japanese community has helped to "build a better America" while also concentrating on the community's traditional elements. This example emphasizes how a folklorist can negotiate between the delicate politics and histories that have evolved within certain regions among different cultural understandings.
Buck notes, "I tried to involve as much of community as I could in reviewing the text to insure appropriate representation of that community." She adds "that this complicated things a lot," but she also notes that the work has more integrity as a result, and that the community feels better about the brochures because individual community members were involved in their production.
The brochures have been well received by the participating ethnic communities, and the Portland Oregon Visitors Association has also received positive feedback from the tourism industry when the brochures have been displayed and discussed at conferences. Because the brochures' texts and photos were just recently added to POVA's website, there is currently no data on response to the electronic version.
The Portland Oregon Visitors Association had such a positive response from the brochures developed by the Office of Folklife Programs that it is working with other organizations to highlight additional areas of the arts and culture of the region. In addition to the five mentioned, four more cultural tours are planned—tours on Portland's cultural district, on literary arts in Portland, on public art in Portland, and on nearby Clackamus County.
All parties involved have been very happy with the outcome of this project. Without taking away from the successes, Buck mentioned a few of the challenges she faced as a folklorist doing this type of work. The 2-3 months of full-time work for which the Folklife Program paid her to complete the research was adequate because POVA only required a relatively superficial level of detail. While this made her job easier in a way, since POVA only wanted to give tourists enough information to entice them without giving too much to overwhelm them, Buck herself found that she had trouble being satisfied with what she describes as "the cultural snapshot approach."
As a folklorist she was a bit frustrated that she could only include "snippets" of cultural information, and for the purposes of the walking tour, only information connected to specific places that were open to the general public. The travel writer did a great job of editing the details of Buck's research to fit into the brochure format. At that stage, however, some things got edited out, and Buck found herself advocating for the inclusion of things which she knew were important from the perspective of the particular ethnic community. In almost all cases, her suggested additions were made. She also participated in the discussion with the designers about photographic and graphics content as well as overall layout and design.
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