About Ely Folk School

Our mission.

Our mission is to build community by providing learning experiences that celebrate the wilderness heritage, art, history, culture, and craft of the people of northern Minnesota.

A little folk school history (lesson).

Ely Folk School is a do-it-yourself place for learning traditional crafts and skills associated with Ely’s cultural heritage and wilderness legacy. Our school is on the vanguard of a growing movement that launched in Scandinavia over a century back. The earliest schools were started by grassroots groups of local farmers and later labor unions, and then the movement was carried forward by rural townspeople. Their thrust was to return education to the community at a time when it was largely restricted to the upper classes.

The movement continues today with over 600 folk schools in Scandinavia and Europe, though the thrust is now low-tech, high-touch learning rather than educational reform. More than 200 folk schools exist in the United States, where each has an identity linked to it geography. For example, North Dakota’s Crooked Lake Farm Folk School focuses on the prairie and rural roots, while North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN, features the northwoods and Lake Superior.

Ely’s rich Balkan and Finnish cultural heritage and its internationally renowned wilderness offer a rich trove around which EFS is creating its identity.

Work with your hands, learn from your peers,
create something lasting.

The Ely Folk School offers classes, workshops and events for folks of all ages involving hands-on, cooperative learning.

People are geared to create. Our ancestors survived by procuring or crafting all of life’s essentials. That hard-wired propensity for creation may no longer be critical for our survival, but it enhances our well-being. The contemplative nature of handwork skills still provides an enormous sense of satisfaction that allows people to lose themselves in time – an increasingly rare experience in today’s fast-paced lives.

Folk schools are havens for interaction and renewal. Their mission is to inspire, not compel. They are also inter- generational and non-competitive with no grades and no credits. They encourage learning for life instead of for exams.

Interactive learning experiences serve to build community.

Tilling the soil to grow your own food, carving a paddle to propel your own canoe, notching the logs to craft your own home — these activities connect hand to heart. And, by learning these skills from one’s peers, they connect people to the cultural context of their communities.

In fact, a key and cherished component of folk schools is nurturing community. When you partake in a folk school class or event, you join other curious individuals to share interests and ideas.

In our modern digitized culture where direct human contact is diminished, folk schools offer interaction, dialogue, and shared experience. Coming together through learning and conversation enhances our individuality, dispels isolation, and reinforces connection to community.