Frequently Asked Questions

What are Folk Schools?

Folks schools are non-profit community organizations that offer short courses on traditional crafts (a few hours to a few days in length).  they connect people who have hands-on skills associated with a community’s heritage with others who want to learn those skills. The concept evolved in Denmark a century back and has grown to include several dozen schools across the U.S. Folks schools feature cross-generational, non-competitive learning (no credits / no grades). Folks schools also host events associated with regional music and food.  Many are increasingly focused on sustainability skills: resource conservation, locally-make goods, and green energy.

Who are Folk Schools for?

Anyone can be a folk school teacher or a student – you just need a skill to share or a desire to learn one!  Typically, folk schools draw most of the instructors and many of their students from their own communities.  But most students come from outside the community.  That’s why Folk Schools work particularly well in vacation areas.  They are a huge added draw for visitors, who are proud to go home with memories, not only of the great vacation they enjoyed, the fun shops they visited, and the fish they caught, but also of the new hobby they learned and their new friendships with local people.

How do Folk Schools fit in with community organizations?

Folk schools often collaborate with other regional education and recreation organizations, including area schools, colleges, community education programs and state and national parks.  The Ely Folk School (EFS) has the unique opportunity not only to collaborate with these same Ely-area entities, but also with Outward Bound, YMCA camps, the Bois Fort Reservation, the US Forest Service, the Wolf and Bear Centers, as well as canoe outfitters and other businesses.  For example, EFS might recruit instructors or course ideas from these entities or arrange for classes to be taught on their premises.

How do Folk Schools fit in with other regional arts and crafts organizations?

Crafts people and artists benefit immensely from being around others with similar skills and passions.  They validate and inspire each other to do great work.  Rather than compete for finite resources, they collectively expand the creative reputation of a community. That  not only enhances the quality of life for residents, but it also expands the community’s appeal as a vacation destination and generates business.

How will the Ely Folk School fit in with Grand Marais’s Folk School?

The North House Folk School, one of the nations’s largest and most successful, supports plans for the Ely Folk School.  Grand Marais and Ely both have huge national cachet as destination vacation towns and both draw about 200,000 visitors per year.  However, there’s very little crossover; each community has its own unique draw of visitors.  This bodes well for tapping the folk school potential in Ely  and it ensures that the Ely and Grand Marais schools will complement, rather than compete, with each other.

How are Folk Schools supported?

Tuition fees for classes (typically $65 – $100/day) provide about half the revenue at most schools.  The balance is covered by grants, contributions, and memberships.  Folk Schools are often able to leverage foundation grants to benefit a community that other instutitions, such as schools and churches, may not be able to access.  EFS’s startup fund drive has already surpassed $10,000 in community contributions.  The campaign is featured at

Where will the Ely Folk School be located?

The former “Fisherman’s Headquarters” building at 209 E Sheridan Street will serve as its base and, thanks to the generosity of the Ott family, has been made available lease-free for the first year.  Classes will also be held elsewhere.  For example, wood and metal-working classes may use shop resources at the high school or college.  But EFS’s highly visible base location with high storefront and eclectic activities will add “curb appeal” to downtown Ely and enhance foot traffic for Ely’s business sector.

How will instructors be recruited?

EFS invites area crafters and artists to submit proposals for class offerings and then works with the instructors of approved courses to determine the dates, length, location, and cost of the class. All classes are covered under EFS’s blanket liability insurance.  The different class categories include wood crafts, fiber arts and sewing, outdoor skills, foods, and music.

Who is coordinating the Ely Folk School?

EFS is under the guidance of a volunteer board of directors, six standing committees, and a contact list of many Ely-area Folk School enthusiasts.