It’s Official: The Great Lakes Folk Festival Is Cancelled

Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 9:43 am
Mark Meyer

Above: the Tejano Sound Band performed at the 2015 Great Lakes Folk Festival.

One year ago, ELi broke the story that the Great Lake Folks Festival had been put on a “one-year hiatus” by MSU Museum Director Mark Auslander. Now comes the news that it’s not a hiatus – it’s a cancellation.

There will be no Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing this year.

East Lansing resident Nora Sleasman, a preservation technician for Michigan State University Libraries and Spartan grad, recently took it upon herself to express dissatisfaction to university and City leadership over the decision to put the final nail in the coffin of the long-running Great Lakes Folk Festival.

In her email to MSU acting President Satish Udpa, Provost June Youatt, Museum Director Mark Auslander (pictured above) and East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows, Sleasman wrote:

“It astonishes me that an event so successful and so well received and so advantageous for our MSU-East Lansing Community would be extinguished for reasons that were never fully illuminated for the public or University Community.

“At a time when transparency from leadership is the standard, I am shocked. At a time when the University has lost so much trust and regard, it seems unwise and even outrageous for a new guy on the block (Director of the Museum) to come in and simply cancel an event at practically the last minute because of some personal thoughts that it wasn’t diverse enough or due to disagreements with the leadership of the event.

After investigation, ELi reported last year that Auslander’s reasoning for the “hiatus” included administrative decisions about funding, Auslander’s view that the festival hasn’t been ethnically diverse enough, and the challenges posed by downtown construction.

But, Sleasman writes, “I will not accept a rationale that the construction in East Lansing was the reason for the Festival’s demise. Both East Lansing and MSU have plenty of open space for both the event and the necessary parking and East Lansing businesses need the revenue generated by it. . . . after the hard hitting terrible things that have happened here among us, we all need a positive, joyful, life affirming time together to celebrate and learn about what is good in our Culture. Isn’t that what being ‘folk’ together is all about?”

Slusman concluded her note by asking the university to reconsider its decision, resurrect the festival and respond to the community’s concern over its loss.

Upda and Auslander have elected to stand behind a short statement recently issued by Melody Kindraka of University Communications, who wrote: “At the present time there are no plans to restart the Great Lakes Folk Festival. We are exploring larger community conversations around the arts and festivals in the region.”

Auslander, reached by email Monday, preferred to promote an upcoming exhibition at the museum rather than discuss his decision to cancel an event that members of his staff – including GLFF co-founders Marsha MacDowell and Kurt Dewhurst – worked to develop, grow, and sustain from its debut in 2002 through 2017.

“One thing we can happily talk about however is the upcoming major exhibition opening at the Museum, of ‘Finding our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak,’ opening Tuesday, April 16, at 5:30 p.m.,” Auslander wrote in response to ELi’s inquiries. “The show was created in partnership with the sister survivors impacted by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, impacts that were of course compounded by a long history of institutional denial and failures of oversight and accountability.”

“I think it fair to say that the opening of this exhibit marks a significant moment in the history of MSU and East Lansing. It is among the most moving and impactful exhibition projects I’ve been involved in, in my entire museum career.”

Sally Potter, booking manager for the Ten Pound Fiddle and longtime advocate of folk music throughout the state, lamented what she and Slusman – and others in the community believe – is a short-sighted decision that will do little to further cooperation between campus and the wider community.

“I don’t get it,” Potter said in a phone interview Monday. “This [the festival] is an effort that required an unbelievable amount of coordination among many moving parts, and it all worked – for many years, to the benefit of the community and the university. The diversity of performers alone was unmatched. I hate to see it go, and so do many others.”

Attempts to reach City officials for comment were unsuccessful. © 2013-2019 East Lansing Info