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Carroll County’s Common Ground on the Hill designated Maryland’s newest folklife center

Common Ground on the Hill founder Walt Michael said his nonprofit organization has worked tirelessly to bring in talented regional and international artists and musicians.

Giving these artists a chance to promote their work and share what they specialize in with others helps the organization grow, he said, and Common Ground is being recognized for its efforts.

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Common Ground on the Hill was recently named Maryland’s newest folklife center, one of three new regional folklife centers in the state, according to a Common Ground news release. It will serve as the new Mid-State Folklife Center for Carroll, Frederick, and Howard counties.

“We’re very excited that we got this designation,” Michael said. “The whole concept of the folklife centers is that they represent an area, but they don’t have to reflect the entire area they come from. They’re working on folklife traditions, whether they’re teaching them or discovering them, practicing them and illuminating them.

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“Our designation is a pretty big one with these counties, and Carroll County, which is certainly replete with all kinds of traditions.”

Regional folklife centers are defined as continuing programmatic or educational efforts made by an organization to support folklife, or community-based living cultural traditions handed down by example or word of mouth, according to the Maryland State Arts Council website.

Grants are administered through the Maryland Traditions state folklife program and support activities that identify, document, support, or present the living cultural traditions of Maryland’s diverse communities, according to the release.

Common Ground was founded in 1994 as a nonprofit and is located on McDaniel College’s campus. The organization’s mission is to bring together artists, teachers, performers, and students who reflect local, national, and international communities and to provide opportunities to teach, appreciate and study musical and art forms representing various ethnic and cultural traditions.

These events provide a focal point to create dialogue among divergent communities, according to the release.

Common Ground hosts three Traditions Weeks of workshops in the traditional arts encompassing music, visual arts, dance, writing, and lecture — a sister program in Sahuarita, Arizona, Common Ground on the Border; monthly roots-based concerts in Baltimore and Westminster, the Common Ground on the Hill Roots Music and Arts Festival, and the Deer Creek Fiddlers’ Convention.

Michael said Common Ground formed a relationship with Carroll County Public Schools which provides teachers with an opportunity to earn college credits through a collaborative program with McDaniel College. These teachers return to their classrooms with a wide range of knowledge and experiences gained during Traditions Weeks.

“It’s paid for by the Carroll County Public School system, which pays for continuing education-type classes for these teachers in many different areas, not just with us,” Michael said. “That way, we have become an integral part of the community.”

Common Ground traditionally holds its Traditions Weeks every July, but moved as much as they could online due to the coronavirus pandemic. The final week started Monday, July 13, and Michael said the events were still very much a success.

“We were able to do it virtually, not without a whole lot of work and transformation,” Michael said. “We found it has it’s positive pieces because people were taking classes from us from all over, Scotland, Nova Scotia, people from the West Coast, people who wanted to come to Common Ground but couldn’t make a trip to Maryland could now still be with us.

“We’re going to continue, if this COVID thing is still where it’s at now, we will continue to be virtual next summer. Even if it does clear up or get far better, we’re still going to have a virtual component.”

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