Cooper came on board in April 2005 following former executive director Jackie Bolden’s resignation in November 2004. Upon joining Folkmoot, Cooper found herself in the challenging position of supervising the 2005 festival with just a few months experience under her belt.
Since the festival takes at least a year to plan, Cooper was working largely with an unknown, somewhat akin to a conductor trying to lead a symphony through an unfamiliar piece of music — she had the know how, and all the right pieces, but had not yet developed a personal relationship with the festival.
However, that first festival taught her perhaps the most important Folkmoot lesson.
“It didn’t take me long to realize how many lives this festival touched,” Cooper said.
The festival, held for two weeks every July, brings together cultures from across the world. This year, groups from Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Mexico, New Zealand, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela will share the stage for performances across the region. An entirely new program of performers arrive each year, but each year Folkmoot becomes a veritable melting pot as troupes from visiting countries tend to put aside any cultural or political differences and allow music and dance to become a universal language.
The festival also serves to educate the local community about international relations and cultures, often changing people’s minds about travel or even what they do with their lives. Folkmoot has at times spawned new career paths for its volunteers.
Knowing Folkmoot’s influence on its participants, Cooper sought to further extend that relationship to the community by fostering cultural exchange. Earlier in the year, Folkmoot hosted dance workshops using local talent to bring salsa and English country dancing to the public. And this year’s festival is continuing to build on the concept introduced in 2005 — having visiting dance troupes teach their own country’s folk dances. Troupes from France, Canada and Venezuela will lead small, public lessons for those interested in learning how to add a few international steps to their repertoire.
Encouraging community participation is key to the festival’s success, Cooper said.
“I think that can only work to enhance the festival,” she said.
Folkmoot held its first photography contest this year, drawing participation from the local community and other states — illustrating the festival’s far-reaching popularity. Local residents Patrick Parton and Vicki Passmore were selected as the competition’s winners.
Parton, a Waynesville resident, submitted a photograph of one of the members of last year’s group from Togo performing a fire-eating dance. His image is featured on this year’s Folkmoot poster.
Passmore, a Candler resident, submitted a photograph of an Indian dancer with a colorful horse that was part of his costume that was taken at a Folkmoot parade several years ago. Her image is featured on the cover of this year’s guidebook.
And for those people who want to support the state’s official international festival but aren’t interested in dance, there’s the new Folkmoot 5K which was held July 22. The race is a partnership between the festival and the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department.
Cooper hopes that giving people an interactive experience deepens their connection to the festival. That connection may in turn help bolster its group of financial supporters.
Prior to joining Folkmoot, Cooper was the Chief Financial Officer of the Boy Scouts of America’s Daniel Boone Council. Her skills managing the council’s $2 million budget was of particular interest to the Folkmoot Board of Directors, as at the time of Cooper’s hiring, Folkmoot was on shaky financial footing. Monies to put on the festival — from paying for repairs to the Folkmoot Friendship Center where dancers stay for the duration of the festival to buying gas for the busses to get troupes where they need to be for each performance across the region — is hard to come by. Suring up that footing was an important goal for Cooper.
“That was a big deal to me,” she said.
Cooper turned to volunteers and donors to put on the first Swingin’ Barn Dance held April 27 at Lake Logan. The event raised more than $11,000 for the festival.