[Creating Culture + Connecting Community]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schlief Photography, Friesen Photography, Dan Francis Photography
Over the past five years, Folkways has become the face of some of the area's most vibrant cultural events and experiences. Without their vision, we would not have local treasures like Downtown Fargo's Red River Market, Night Bazaar, Canoe Parade, Log the Sauna and Christkindlmarkt. With their roots in the Midwest and their life experiences worldly, founders Simone Wai and Joe Burgum have made a career of gathering inventive inspiration, both at home and afar. This month, we invite you to meet the team, find out what inspires their creativity, and how each carefully curated experience impacts our community.
A Community Collective
Folkways' designed programming and events are not simply entertainment for the masses - they're built with an impactful, people-centric purpose: to create vibrant places and provide a greater sense of belonging within our community.
"The outcome of our work increases the quality of life for all residents and boosts our local economy through the creation of marketplaces for small business owners and artisans," explained Wai. "Folkways has been called a social enterprise and a community collective, but we like to think of ourselves as a Chamber of Culture."
The Making of a Culture Creator
Wai and Burgum have been partners in life for the last eight years, designing their first event two years before Folkways' inception. In 2013, the duo, along with a group of four other volunteer organizers, created an extraordinary gathering called the Alley Fair, that took place in Robert’s Alley in Downtown Fargo. They would host and design two fairs in this location, and a year later, a third behind the Red Raven on Main Avenue.
"We brought in trees and plants, had artists paint temporary murals on the pavement, and transformed the alleyways into lively places for a single day. We had an artist market, live music and performers, as well as local food vendors," explained Wai. "The event has had a lasting effect. Since then, many existing buildings and businesses added alley facing entrances and outdoor patios. New buildings that have been built, have small alleyway shops and residence entrances. It has become a vibrant place to be every day."
Folkways was born from simple, community-building projects. One of their earliest was a study of local music where they interviewed 50 community members in the music industry. "Through that study, we started hosting concerts in our living room and on our lawn. By connecting with the needs of our community, we've created events and programming that respond to those needs," said Wai.
Burgum officially came on board in 2014 and continued to spearhead an array of community projects with Wai. Eventually, they took on another pivotal team member, Steve French, as Director of Operations. While today, Burgum manages strategy, development, and fundraising, Wai manages marketing, communications and programming.
"All three of us have had the opportunity to travel and live in many cities, either while we were young, or in adulthood. For us, it’s impossible to travel for leisure, because everything that we experience gets stored in the ‘research and development’ file in our brains," said Wai. "We love checking out markets, events, plazas, and festivals in other cities because every new idea gets us so excited about our work in our community. My family has always valued the arts, so our focus on uplifting (and most importantly, hiring) local artists and musicians, has always come naturally."
Gathering for Good
While shining a brighter light on the community's under-utilized assets, Folkways has done a brilliant job of redefining destinations, supporting artists and unveiling local talent. Starting in July, Folkways has a full schedule of events, along with their pop up plaza venue in Downtown Fargo. If you haven't been to one of their past events, we're happy to give you a tour of the alleys, breweries, streets, and rivers that have played a part in connecting our community.
Red River Market
Each Saturday, from July 11 through October 31, Folkways is recreating the Red River Market, a weekly gathering of local fare and fun, including makers, bakers, florists, artists and farm-fresh goods. "Our mission is to create a space for all people to experience the joys of local food," said Wai. "The Red River Market strives to support small to midsize farms and emerging food businesses. We want to increase access to fresh, locally grown produce, be a good steward of the planet, and create a sense of place where all are welcome. We are experimenters, so we love Red River Market because it’s a weekly event. We get to change and improve things every single week and see how they play out very quickly."
"This summer, the Red River Market will host even more incredible vendors, have a greater focus on food education, and have more cultural demonstrations and performances, ranging from Native American Dancers to the FM Opera," said Wai.
Red River Market | Fall Fest
2020 Red River Market
"We want to increase access to fresh, locally grown produce, be a good steward of the planet, and create a sense of place where all are welcome."
Simone Wai, Co-founder of Folkways
Night Bazaar is a live music and performance event with three dates in the works for July, August, and September. Along with outdoor performances, attendees can expect immersive experiences, allowing them to be part of the event. Grab a drink and shop from local artists, makers, and vintage shops, while browsing fare from local food trucks and carts.
"We created Night Bazaar with two audiences in mind," said Burgum. "With all of the excitement and energy in Downtown Fargo, we wanted to make sure that families were included, and that parents who worked downtown felt that they could invite their family down to experience something unique. The other group of people we wanted to celebrate were the misfit creatives. Night Bazaar has such a fun circus and carnival feel while still feeling friendly and welcoming."
If you're under the age of 21, it can be hard to find live, local music in our own community, but Folkways has set out to change the course. "We have worked to create free live music for all ages at our events," said Wai. "After one of our performers got off the stage at Night Bazaar, I saw him taking part in all of the activities with his kids. At the end of the event, he thanked us - as a long time gigging musician, it was the first time his kids had been able to go to one of his performances. I feel like that gets to the point of everything that we try to do: creating lifelong, intergenerational memories through our experiences."
Marking the perfect end to summer, Folkways' Canoe Parade floats for a deeper purpose. "With a procession of decorated vessels, the Canoe Parade connects participants and spectators to the river that has shaped the Fargo-Moorhead area," said Wai. "The parade creates positive experiences with the Red River; a recreational asset to our community." If you don't have a canoe, don't worry, participants can rent a canoe, tandem kayak or single kayak on the website.
Christkindlmarkt is a German-inspired holiday event that encourages friends and family to gather outside and embrace the season. The annual, four-day event offers a family-friendly atmosphere with crafting, live music, an Outdoor Winter Wonderland, Food Tent, Gift Market and Beer Hall. Make sure to check the schedule so you don't miss the dance and aerial performances, where everyone has a front-row seat.
Log the Sauna
Folkways has found a way to make the most of Fargo's frigid winters with a traditional Finnish sauna experience called, Log the Sauna. This mobile, cedar barrel sauna has made appearances at Frostival and is available to rent. Gather a few friends, enhance your wellness, and don't forget to socialize while you sweat it out.
According to Burgum, the idea for a mobile sauna was sparked in the summer of 2015. "It started as a joke at Red River Market; one of the farmer vendors had an old ambulance which they used to transport their produce. We spent an afternoon dreaming up other things to do with a used ambulance and thought that a sauna would be an amazing idea. The talk of saunas has been something on our radar since our research trip to Scandinavia in winter 2014," said Burgum. "Simone and I were asking ourselves what we could learn from other northern climates about thriving in Winter. Sauna culture is a key aspect of how northern communities connect with one another in winter and stay healthy."
The Impact of Interaction
While forging new experiences is a talent in itself, Folkways strives for an impact capable of reshaping our community. "One day, I tried to count up the number of businesses that I knew were launched because of the Red River Market, Christkindlmarkt or other events. The number was over 25 and those were just the businesses that I was sure of, including many businesses run by New Americans and women," said Wai. "The Market and other events make our community feel empowered and supported to start something that makes its own impact."
"We are really lucky to live in a state that has a group of peer organizations that are doing similar work in their own respective areas. We regularly chat with this group including Emerging Prairie, Evolve Grand Forks, Start Bismarck, Makewell in Bismarck, Unglued (specifically their adult summer camp program), and Long X Arts Foundation in Watford City," explained Wai.
Support the Arts, Support the Community
"There are so many ways that you can support our community. Don’t discount any of the top three: time, treasure and talent," said Wai. "Our community needs all three. Show up, volunteer, make a donation, buy something from a local vendor, hire a musician or performer, or contribute yourself by creating or starting your own business."
For more information & upcoming events, go to:
Midwest Nest loves the culture from the upper midwest, and we are excited to share stories from around the area.