Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker-Bronson
African Diaspora Program Director, Professor
Ferne Caulker Bronson, a native of Sierra Leone, West Africa, spent the first 12 years of her life in Freetown, the Capitol of Sierra Leone, 3 years in an English boarding school and then, her last year of High School in Milwaukee; a graduate of Custer High.
Her diverse cultural and educational background has afforded a unique prospective and disciplined approach to her career as an educator, mentor, professor, artist and human being. Ferne Caulker has studied with numerous master teachers in African and Caribbean dance and music, including her mentors, Katherine Dunham, Lavinia Williams, Chief Bey and Pearl Primus. Through her continued research in the history and aesthetics of the performing arts of the African Continent and Diaspora, she continues the traditions of these great legends. Her research on the connectivity between African culture and its aesthetic presence throughout the Diaspora have taken her to Ghana in 1969 and 2011, London in 2010, South Carolina/Gullah Culture 2006 to present, and Tanzania, East Africa in 1995.
Caulker’s research mission is passionately focused on the links between traditional African danced and musical forms throughout the African Diaspora. She is particularly interested in the relationship between arts training and cultural exposure to increased self esteem, resulting in positive school attendance, increased grade scores and social behavior. Caulker is the Founder and Artistic Executive Director of Wisconsin’s internationally renowned Ko-Thi Dance Company. Founded in 1969, Ko-Thi is dedicated to the preservation and expression of the performing arts from the African Continent, Caribbean and United States. The company, both its adult and children’s performing ensemble – Ton Ko-Thi, are considered one of Wisconsin’s cultural treasures, recently selected to represent the State of Wisconsin in its national Tourism campaign.
She has received numerous awards for her consistent work in the preservation and exposure of the African dance and musical genres with children and adults. The company has performed at the 1990 Mitsui Festival in Japan, Canada and throughout the United States, including New York’s Lincoln Center ‘Out of Doors’ summer concert series and multiple appearances at Brooklyn Academy’s ‘Dance Africa’ series.
She has been teaching at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee since 1971, where she is a Full Professor in the Peck School of the Arts – Dance Department. She created the University’s first courses on African dance and history. In 2010, she succeeded in creating the first national 4-year BFA degree, African dance track in Performance and Choreography at a University.
Caulker has served on numerous Universities committees including Chancellor’s and PSOA Dean’s searches. She currently serves as the Dance Department’s faculty and student mediator. She is a recipient of the prestigious and competitive 1994 Fulbright award. As a Fulbright scholar she traveled and studied dance and music in Tanzania, East Africa for 3 months (1995). In 2011 she received research awards to travel to Ghana, West Africa. Research awards also provided an opportunity to attend the first International Conference of the Association of Dance in the African Diaspora, held in London 2010.
Caulker has served on many panels including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wisconsin Arts Board. Caulker’s scholarly work continues through a recently published chapter in the 3rd edition of The Dance Experience: Insights into History, Culture and Creativity, entitled “African Dance: Divine Motion." In 2009 Caulker was invited to be a presenter in the Imagine America conference held in New Orleans, where she presented her choreographic process for a work, “Forgotten,” choreographed on UWM dance majors, based upon the tragedy of Katrina. She has developed a unique movement workshop based upon this work.