BOONE - Dr. Robert Brown, Associate Professor of Geography at Appalachian State University was honored to nominate one of this year's National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) National Heritage Fellowship winners, Big Chief Joseph Pierre "Monk" Boudreaux, leader of the Golden Eagles.
The NEA National Heritage Fellowship is the highest award in the traditional arts granted by the United States government, recognizing artistic excellence to individuals and supporting their continuing contributions to this country's traditional arts heritage.
Big Chief Joseph Pierre "Monk" Boudreaux, leader of the Golden Eagles, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe of New Orleans, is a folk artist and musician in the tradition of New Orleans Black Indians. The New Orleans Black Indians emerged in the late nineteenth century, appearing as various "tribes" or "gangs," in stunningly elaborate costumes, or "suits," that combine the visual aesthetics of nineteenth century American Plains Indians and Afro-Caribbean Carnival revelers. Music and movement are as central to the tradition as is symbolic costuming, or "masking."
Dr. Brown is an Associate Professor of Geography in the Geography and Planning department. He began his tenure track position at Appalachian in 2002. He is a cultural geographer with a research focus on the American South and New Orleans. "I focus on humanistic geography with ethnography as the central method in my research, which is to say that I try to cultivate communicative relationships with my research partners in which I become the 'student,'" says Dr. Brown.
Dr. Brown was introduced to Big Chief Monk while working with anthropologist Dr. Joyce Jackson at Louisiana State University, where Dr. Brown was working on his Ph.d in the late 1990s.
Nominating an individual for this award is an extensive process that includes writing a biographical essay and a well-supported rationale for the nominee's consideration for the award. Dr. Brown was required to submit samples of Big Chief Monk's work (photographs, video, and audio) and to solicit letters of support, which he secured from leaders in the cultural arts community of New Orleans.
"I've come to understand—and observe first hand—that Big Chief Monk is one of those rare individuals who serve as a pillar of traditional American culture," says Dr. Brown. "In a time of cultural homogenization, it is thrilling to encounter an individual who retains the old ways of a unique American culture and works to ensure that that culture lives on. He takes it as an avocation to see that the Mardi Gras Indian culture continues to live and thrive."
Each nomination stays in consideration for the award for four years. Monk won in his third year of consideration. Fewer than 10 individuals receive the award each year. "I'm gratified and honored to have successfully brought Big Chief Monk to the attention of those in the NEA whose job it is to elevate such individuals to the level of national recognition," says Dr. Brown.
On June 30th the National Endowment for the Arts announced the winners of the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowships. NEA Fellows receive an award of $25,000 which recognizes the recipient's artistic excellence and supports their continuing contributions to our nation's traditional arts heritage. Dr. Brown will travel to Washington, DC in September for the award ceremony and concert at the Library of Congress.