Jon Kay serves as executive director of Traditional Arts Indiana and is a professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University Bloomington, educating future generations about Indiana’s folk ways, arts and aging, and public practice.
Traditional Arts Indianawas established in 1998 as a statewide program working to document and promote Indiana’s customs and folklife. As the program’s executive director, Kay founded the Heritage Fellowship program, one of three main initiatives of Traditional Arts Indiana. This program exists to celebrate the lifetime achievements of folklorists and traditional artists in the state and honor the communities of which they are a part.
Through programs like the Heritage Fellowship program, Kay collaborates with people within communities such as hoop net makers, banjo players, instrument makers and woodcarvers to document histories and traditions. His interest in and passion for traditional arts and folklore originates from his grandfather, who taught him that “all things have stories that are associated with them.”
As a public humanist and folklorist, Kay learns from communities and hopes to improve the cultural richness of life for others by passing on the knowledge. His dedication to traditional arts is wide-ranging, from teaching folklore courses to Indiana University students, to mentoring young practitioners nationwide, to conducting survey research that explores the creative practices of elders and how these practices support aging populations. Kay was also a producer on the Waterways film The Net Makers.
When asked about the future of his field, Kay replied, “Some traditions may pass away, but I’m very optimistic about the fact that people will continue to create. People will continue to communicate through expressive practices and new traditions will emerge. You have to take the overly familiar and make it strange again so everyone can see the uniqueness of the world around them. It’s important. It’s significant. It’s Indiana.”
Indiana Humanities is honored to call Jon Kay a Humanities Hero and to celebrate his work documenting and supporting the traditions of our Hoosier state.