MILLVILLE — There will always be a debate about the existence of a Central Jersey, but geographically there is no doubt that Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean, and Salem counties are grouped in the southern end of the Garden State.

In those eight counties, more than 60 ethnic communities coexist, and since 1995 it has been the mission of the Down Jersey Folklife Program at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville to entertain and educate visitors about those traditional cultures.

Iveta Pirgova, director of the Department of Folklife and Cultural Studies at WheatonArts, said while the center can't present all those communities at once, it does attempt to bridge the gap between visual and performing arts, which had once been more interconnected than they now are.

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"When we have an exhibit which is mostly focused on the visual part of the traditional cultures, we also have performances and demonstrations, and music and dance," Pirgova said.

WheatonArts pursues partnerships with other museums to round out its programming, which includes a glass museum as well as live artist studios showcasing paper, ceramic, and glasswork, and of course the Folklife Program.

"Threads of Time & Wisdom"
"Threads of Time & Wisdom" at the Down Jersey Folklife Center (Courtesy WheatonArts)

Down Jersey's current exhibition, running through Nov. 14, is called "Threads of Time & Wisdom: Chilean & Guatemalan Fiber Arts."

As that title might suggest, it falls under the larger umbrella of a 2022 program entitled "Reflections & Expressions: Communities & Cultures of Central & South America."

Pirgova said WheatonArts worked with Central and South American communities in the state's eight southernmost counties on this year's attractions.

"Threads of Time & Wisdom"
"Threads of Time & Wisdom" at the Down Jersey Folklife Center (Courtesy WheatonArts)

Specifically, "Threads of Time & Wisdom" offers a visual comparison between the traditional textiles of the Chilean Mapuche and Guatemalan Maya people, who continue to maintain a presence in New Jersey.

"Both the Mapuche and Maya artists create works that speak about identity and cultural heritage in our modern, interconnected world," Pirgova said.

In this way, Pirgova said, these cultures are literally "weaving" their ancestral knowledge into modern ways of life, proving that they haven't vanished over time -- they're still around.

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Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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