About Us

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.

The Ely Folk School seeks to preserve and celebrate our community’s cultural arts heritage. Its success since being founded in 2015 demonstrates our community’s embrace of its classes and events. And, given its highly visible front-and-center Ely location, it serves as a catalyst for our downtown’s current rejuvenation, which the Minneapolis Star Tribune has hailed the “Ely Renaissance.”

Classes in Northwoods Crafts and Skills

We work with teachers whose passion and skills align with our mission and provide the facilities for teachers to share their knowledge and build our community. Class topics range from Snowshoe Weaving and Potica Baking to Canoeing Basics and Wet Felting Wool Slippers and many more!  Visit our class catalog

Events that Promote Ely’s Heritage and Unique Culture

Ely, Minnesota, is a special place. Explored by French voyageurs, settled by loggers and miners largely from Finland and Slovenia, and visited by thousands of wilderness enthusiasts each year, Ely has a rich history to uncover.  Ely Folk School sponsors dances, concerts, and other events to celebrate our heritage.

The Ely Folk School – a DIY Antidote to the Digital World

EFS is a do-it-yourself place for learning traditional crafts & skills associated with Ely’s cultural heritage & 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 & 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 & 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 & ideas. In our modern digitized culture where direct human contact is diminished, folk schools offer interaction, dialogue & shared experience. Coming together through learning and conversation enhances our individuality, dispels isolation and reinforces connection to community.

Ely Folk School Board

Lacey Squier, Chair
Chris Clemens, Treasurer
Johnnie Hyde, Marketing
Paul Schurke

Betty Firth, Program Coordinator
Lucy Soderstrom, Assistant Program Coordinator
Alexia Springer, Media
Pam Kewley

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