Over the last few years, the residents of Kent County, England have been working to get better acquainted with the residents of the state of Virginia, via a special partnership that was established between the Kent County Council and Jamestown 2007: America’s 400th Anniversary. The success of this new relationship was celebrated with food, song and conversation at the McLean home of Del. Vincent Callahan, Jr. (R-34th) last week.
On Tuesday, July 3, the artists and craftsman participating in the Roots of Virginia segment of the 2007 Smithsonian Folklife Festival took a bus from Washington D.C. to McLean, for a party held in their honor at Callahan’s residence.
In honor of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, this year’s Folklife Festival program brought to Washington performers, artists, musicians, dancers, storytellers, cooks, farmers and craftspeople to help explain, demonstrate, and celebrate cultural traditions. Delegations from Virginia's eight Native American tribes, West Africa, and Kent County, England, will represented the Native American, African American, and English roots of the state. The program featured fruit growers and wooden boat builders from Virginia and Kent, as well as peanut farmers and pottery makers from West Africa and Virginia. In addition, blacksmiths from each culture worked side-by-side, giving demonstrations of their craft to the public. Other participants sang gospel songs, ballads, blues and bluegrass, demonstrated horse skills and crafts, discussed historic restoration and cooked with products from the state of Virginia. This year marked the first time that an English county participated in the Folklife Festival.
AMANDA COTTRELL, the former High Sheriff of Kent County, said that she thinks the people of Virginia and Kent can learn a lot from each other.
“Even though Virginia has a population of 3.6 million and is much bigger than Kent’s 1.5 million, I think there is a great deal that we can do to help each other,” said Cottrell, who is half-Virginian herself. “For example, farmer’s markets are very much the thing here in Virginia, and we would like to bring them to Kent. This is just the beginning of our relationship.”
Cottrell said plans are also being made to create educational apprenticeship exchange programs between Kent and Virginia.
“It’s really been a unique opportunity for us as well as a challenging one,” said Cottrell. “It’s just been wonderful.”
Rebecca Casson, head of the Kent-Virginia Development Unit and executive director of Jamestown Development in the United Kingdom, has been working to develop the partnership between Kent County and Virginia since 2003. Casson said an effort is being made to build tourism links between the two regions.
“For example, right now we have a site that is specifically aimed at American tourists who are interested in finding their ancestors,” said Casson. “So we’re trying to repatriate people.”
Casson said she was thrilled at the success of Roots of Virginia program in this year’s Folklife Festival.
“We’ve had 500,000 visitors so far, so it’s been really wonderful,” she said.
Lucky Moyo participated in the program as an expert on indigenous songs, and Moyo led a group sing-along at the Callahans’ home last week. Moyo said he enjoyed learning about the other cultures at the Folklife Festival.
“It was like one-stop shopping because everybody was all in one place,” said Moyo.