Folklife Center boosted by late support


The American Folklife Center faced doom a month ago, but now with the help of more than 100 Internet messages, 200 phone calls and some concerned constituents, the center just might survive.

The Folklife Center was created in 1976 to preserve American culture. Located in the Library of Congress, it houses a collection of more than 1.5 million recordings, books and pictures representing America's diverse grass-roots culture.

A Senate and House conference committee voted Thursday to restore the center's $1.1 million operating budget, reversing last month's House decision to transfer that money to the Congressional Budget Office for a study on unfunded mandates.

"All of us at the Folklife Center are delighted and relieved," said director Alan Jabbour. The 14-member staff at the center attributes its suddenly changed fate to the hundreds of folklorists and educators who rallied to its support.

Stephanie Parks and Stephanie Hall, the center's receptionist and archivist, recall how their usually quiet office was transformed into chaos as they answered phone calls and e-mail messages only 48 hours before the House vote.

"It seemed like the phone was ringing every minute," Ms. Parks said. "They were saying, 'Oh no, this is horrible, we can't let this happen.' "

Nobody knows where the calls began, but Louisa Hufstader of Rounder Records in Cambridge remembers her reaction when she heard the news. "I just got so upset. I started writing e-mail," she said.

Thinking the House would vote the next day, Ms. Hufstader put a message on a bluegrass computer bulletin board, pleading with people to call or e-mail their representatives in Congress.

Hundreds of miles away in Owensboro, Ky., Tom Adler, executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum, also put his thoughts on the Net. "For me this is a crisis," he wrote. He professed himself angry "they would do such a thing, and I want them to know it."

In New Hampshire, Jill Linzee, an officer and board member of Folklorists in New England, was calling her colleagues.

Meanwhile, the House delayed the vote, and Ms. Parks and Ms. Hall at the Folklife Center continued answering phone calls and computer messages. Calls came from as far away as England, and people from Canada and India sent computer messages.

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