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Ethnomusicology and Arts

Ethnomusicology and Arts within SIL focuses on research, documentation and promotion of artistic forms of communication around the world in order to help communities meet their needs and goals.

Members of SIL’s Ethnomusicology and Arts group are motivated by three realities:

 In response to these realities, SIL arts personnel join community artists in working toward a better future: one of justice, peace, joy, physical safety, social continuity and spiritual wholeness. By drawing on insights from ethnomusicology, ethnography of communication, performance studies, participatory community development and other fields, it is possible to get to know local artists, their arts and their cultural contexts and to spark creativity in local genres in ways that will result in a better future.

Like all communication systems, the arts are connected to particular times, places and social contexts. They have their own symbols, grammars and internal structures. There is no single artistic language that communicates completely across lines of time, place and culture. So to understand any art form, it is necessary to interact with its practitioners and study it. Getting to know local artists is the first step, which allows ethnoarts workers to enter respectfully and productively into a community’s creative life. Check out the story of one community that is using arts to work toward a better future.

SIL Arts Consultant Assists Community

One South Asian ethnolinguistic community faced a breakdown of the ways they passed on their unique knowledge, skills and values. Because of a shift toward national education, children no longer worked the fields during the day or sat with elders in the evenings, where transmission of cultural knowledge usually took place. With this shift, a generation had grown into young adults who had only tenuous connections to previous generations.

In response to this loss, the community invited SIL Arts Consultant Mary Beth Saurman to contribute to a participatory workshop, where the generations came together and discussed what traditions they valued and what was slipping away from them. Saurman helped guide discussions between older and younger adults and plan how they would actively pass on their valuable cultural wisdom and art forms.

One solution was to open up opportunities for older expert musicians and artists to teach classes about their art forms and knowledge. The community also produced books and reading materials about creative processes and cultural values. They developed a new transmission process within the national education system that had initially contributed to the communication breakdown.

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Additional information on Ethnomusicology and Arts

Please contact:

International Ethnomusicology and Arts Coordinator
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Road
Dallas, TX 75236-5629
Telephone:   (972) 708-7517
E-mail: