8.4.1 Amateur arts and folk culture
Amateur arts in Albania have a long-standing tradition, especially in the field of music. Folk groups are active in all Albanian towns and several music associations have been established. The Ministry of Culture finances a nation-wide folk festival in Gjirokastra, in which minority groups can also participate.
In fact, folklore, especially folk songs and dances, have always been considered a matter for amateurs in Albania. Under Communism, amateur groups of all genres and art forms could count on financial and technical support from central and local government. Nowadays, the only amateur groups to get some project funding are folk ensembles (occasional support for recording and CDs) and Tirana high school students, who participate in an annual amateur festival for teens.
The most important institution of folk music and dance is the Folk Song and Dance Ensemble, now a division of the National Opera and Ballet Theatre. It has a sixty year long history and several awards at international folk festivals. At the time of its establishment, the ensemble was formed through auditions open to all amateurs interested. All selected members were trained in year long courses by professionals. With time, things changed and more and more graduates of the Academy of Arts joined the Ensemble, though it remained open to amateurs. Due to their status as full-time professionals, the Ensemble was never allowed to compete for any of the awards at the National Folk Ensemble in Gjirokastra, but as always it was invited to perform as a guest of honour during the final night.
Folk festivals are a new interesting reality in Albania. The National Folk Festival of Gjirokastra, first held in 1968, is still in business and is held every four years. All participants must meet the Festival's strict criteria: to perform an original piece of art, be it a song, a dance or an instrumental work, that was never performed or recorded before. The last edition of the Festival was in September 2009. Some 1 200 musicians, singers and dancers performed live during the week of the Festival on the stage within Gjirokastra Castle.
Other festivals are held in tourist cities, like Vlora, especially during the high tourist season in August. As a rule, they are non-competitive and open to international folk ensembles and performers. An exception is the Bylis Festival of Polyphony, which emphasises polyphony as a brilliant tradition of Balkan folklore.