AL-Tina Bucuvalas w sponger (Tina Bucuvalas).jpg

Sponge diver Ali Ozunboylu is one of the people Tina Bucuvalas consulted in 2016 while researching her book on the history of sponge diving.

TARPON SPRINGS — Typically, being an author, historian and curator of art and culture involves spending a lot of time in libraries, museums and offices, peering at a laptop for hours on end.

And while Tina Bucuvalas has spent plenty of time doing traditional research during her career, she also believes in using a more hands-on approach.

“When I do research on information of a traditional culture, most of it is gathered first-hand because a lot of traditional culture is never written about. It’s informal,” said Bucuvalas, a Tarpon Springs resident.

For the past 10 years, Bucuvalas, 67, has served as the curator of arts and historical resources for Tarpon Springs. Prior to coming to the city, she was director of the Florida Folklife Program and state folklorist, posts she held for 13 years.

Bucuvalas has written, co-written or edited five books related to Florida folklore, including “Just Above the Water: Florida Folk Art and South Florida Folklife.”

“So, I always do first-hand research with people, as well as background research, and I always create programs to communicate these cultural findings to the public.”

Throughout her college and professional careers, Bucuvalas has traveled to learn more about her subjects of interest.

After earning a master’s degree in Folklore and Mythology from UCLA, Bucuvalas visited several Latin American countries while earning her doctorate from Indiana University before embarking on a professional career that included a stint as director of the Florida Folklore Program and involved trips to Mexico, Cuba, Australia, Greece, Paris and the Bahamas, among other places.

“I go to do research,” she said. “I spend a lot of time in museums and archives.”

Despite the occasional trips to exotic locales, Bucuvalas still relies heavily on old-fashioned hard work; she recently ended a two-year period of time-consuming curation, aggregation and translation work to complete her latest book, “Greek Music in America,” which was released through her publisher, University Press of Mississippi, in December.

“I did an exhibit on Greek music in America in 2015 and as I was curating the script, I realized there wasn’t much written about it, just obscure books and journal articles that were not easily accessed,” she said. “I thought, this is just scratching the surface, there needs to be a book about it.”

While admitting compiling the book “was tough” and “took a lot of hard work,” Bucuvalas’ years of hard work and dedication to her field have not gone unnoticed; she recently learned she was named as one of four recipients of the 2019 Florida Folk Heritage Awards, which are given to outstanding folk artists and advocates who have made longstanding contributions to the folklife of Florida.

“It means a lot to me because the award is for lifetime achievement in folk culture within the state of Florida,” she said, noting she used to run the award program as president of the Florida Folklife Program. “I think it’s pretty unique and makes me proud to be associated with the award and the many people who have won it.”

While Bucuvalas will happily make the trip to Tallahassee to receive the award during a ceremony in April, she isn’t one to bask in accolades.

“My job isn’t about me. It’s about people who create, carry and pass on culture,” she said, adding it’s “the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

She was also quick to encourage others to take an interest in their history, culture and heritage.

“I recommend people get involved, start by interviewing their own family members about their culture and traditions, anything that interests them go out and pursue it,” she said. “You realize there are so many things you don’t have the answer to. But you can find the answer, and have fun doing it!”