Northwest Folklife: World Peace through Arts & Culture

Sunshine from Polynesia performs Hawaiian and Tahitian Dances on the Northwest Folklife Festival's new Open-Air Dance Stage. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)
Sunshine from Polynesia performs Hawaiian and Tahitian Dances on the Northwest Folklife Festival’s new Open-Air Dance Stage. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)

Northwest Folklife is all about you: your communities, your traditions, your folklife. In other words, Northwest Folklife is about our big neighborhood. In our mission to create opportunities for all to celebrate, share and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest, we want to connect with you. Do multi-cultural arts and cultural practices spark your imagination of social engagement and world peace? If yes, please consider learning more about Northwest Folklife and how we can celebrate and share your folklife, arts, and culture.

Northwest Folklife stands for the belief that the arts invigorate and revitalize interpersonal connections and sense of community. We envision strong communities, united by arts and culture.

When people share aspects of their culture, opportunities are created to dissolve misunderstandings, break down stereotypes, and increase respect for one another. Inspiring childrens’ cultural intelligence can create a kinder world, stronger communities, and smarter kids.

3. Morris Dancing in the McCaw Promenade at the Northwest Folklife Festival. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)
3. Morris Dancing in the McCaw Promenade at the Northwest Folklife Festival. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)

The Pacific Northwest is home to an extraordinary group of communities—ethnic, familial, occupational, religious, and regional—and we believe it is important to celebrate and help sustain the folklife and cultural traditions of all of those groups. But… what is folklife?

The next time you put out a pumpkin for Halloween, cut scraps of fabric for a quilt, or sing Happy Birthday, you will be practicing folklife. Much more than just folklore and folk music, “folklife is the everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass on to the next generation.” Mary Hufford of The American Folklife Center explains that ‘Folklife is community life and values, artfully expressed in myriad interactions. It is universal, diverse, and enduring. It enriches the nation and makes us a commonwealth of cultures.’

Jamming at the Northwest Folklife Festival. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)
Jamming at the Northwest Folklife Festival. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)

Please join Northwest Folklife in celebrating, sharing and participating in the evolving traditions of our richly diverse communities’ folklife. By preserving cultural heritage we promote its evolution. How? Through opportunities for intergenerational exchange, self-expression, and participation in all the forms of creative practice that people weave into their daily lives. Everyone is a bearer of folk arts; and participation in the arts is as important as observing them.

Northwest Folklife’s programs delve deep into art forms, dance, and music, exploring the parts their components play across cultures, artistic styles, and techniques. The fiddle, for example, is present in traditions hailing from the Irish to Mongolian, intimate kitchen music to acoustically altered. Main areas of programming explore Generational Roots Culture such as square dancing, American blues, and British Isles dance traditions; Ethnic and Cultural Traditions such as Somali Dance, Japanese Taiko, Polish and Bulgarian Dance, and Hungarian singing; and, Emerging and Evolving Arts such as hip hop, beat boxing, and folktronica.

Northwest Folklife has a long history of exploring a topic in depth through special performances, panels, workshops, exhibitions, demonstrations, and activities. Our annual ‘Cultural Focus’ explores an art form, a community, or a culture’s specific artistic discipline, background, and philosophy. In 2016, we celebrated The Power of the Human Voice through Song. Our 2017 Cultural Focus celebrates the 20th anniversary of Seattle Center’s Festál. Made up of 23 regional community organizations, including Northwest Folklife, Festál presents the world cultures that reside in the Pacific Northwest.

The Main Attraction: Acappella Vocalists celebrate Northwest Folklife's 2016 Cultural Focus: Power of the Human Voice through Song. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)
The Main Attraction: Acappella Vocalists celebrate Northwest Folklife’s 2016 Cultural Focus: Power of the Human Voice
through Song. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)

Our Big Neighborhood youth and family program engages families in introducing children to world cultures in the most accessible ways possible: through music, dance, cooking, nature, and being good neighbors. By enhancing global awareness, children develop curiosity. By sharing and celebrating the vitality of folk, ethnic, and traditional arts, we can develop young minds and bodies through movement, rhythm, song, and hands-on activities, opening their minds to cultural competency.

Throughout the year, Community Coordinators work alongside Northwest Folklife to co-create the Festival. In 2016, we produced a record 152 community-powered all-ages showcases, including Blues Dance, Fiddle, Rhythms of India, Japanese, Mexican Folklorico, Maritime, Morris Dance, Filipino, Reggae Rising, Stand Up Comedy, and more. Northwest Folklife Festival performers numbered 5,845. With 1,226 applications to perform, we know that folks value this opportunity for self-expression. Hundreds of youth in dance and music programs throughout the Pacific Northwest train throughout their school year for public performance opportunities at the Northwest Folklife Festival.

5. Visual Arts at the Northwest Folklife Festival: in·dig·e·nize, a portrait essay of Indigenous people currently living in the Pacific Northwest by creative director Tracy Rector and photographer Melissa Ponder. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)
5. Visual Arts at the Northwest Folklife Festival: in·dig·e·nize, a portrait essay of Indigenous people currently living in
the Pacific Northwest by creative director Tracy Rector and photographer Melissa Ponder. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)

We see that interaction with new audiences enriches presenting communities and artists as much as the audience.

Do you think the Northwest Folklife Festival could get off the ground if we tried to start it today? Here’s the pitch: Let’s put on a participatory arts and culture Festival featuring the folklife (a word actually missing from most dictionaries) and living traditions of all the Northwest communities we can possibly reach out to, newcomer and native alike. Let’s work one-on-one with hundreds of communities and artists to share and celebrate their arts and cultural traditions the way they want to have them presented. If a community is not quite ready, let’s find a small step they can take to participate in a meaningful way, and get them connected to the greater community. Then, with these 5,000 or so musicians, dancers and artists, let’s put on a four-day Festival and not charge admission! We want everyone to have access. Do you think the Northwest Folklife Festival idea could fly if we started it today?

45th Northwest Folklife Festival hosted Coolout Network: 25th Anniversary featuring Funk Daddy, Roc Phizzle, Black Stax, Onry, Silver Shadow D, and others. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)
45th Northwest Folklife Festival hosted Coolout Network: 25th Anniversary featuring Funk Daddy, Roc Phizzle, Black Stax, Onry, Silver Shadow D, and others. (Photo by Christopher Nelson)

Some of our community power comes in the form of our public-private partnership with the City of Seattle. Northwest Folklife, an independent 501(c)-3 nonprofit organization, partners with Seattle Center, a department of the City of Seattle. Northwest Folklife is a member of the Festal community of ethnic festivals. The City of Seattle’s in-kind investment in Northwest Folklife’s work supports around 45% of direct expenses.

Northwest Folklife programs invite all people to participate together in the cultural traditions of our big neighborhood with no financial barrier, creating the most inclusive, wide-reaching arts experiences in the region, and quite possibly the nation.

Donors, funders, sponsors, vendors, and craft and food merchants all sustain Northwest Folklife and its legacy of community.

Please join us! http://www.nwfolklife.org

This post was written and edited by our sponsor.

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