NEA Announcement: Folk Arts State Partnerships Research Report

Dear colleagues,

We are excited to share this three-year analysis of the extraordinary work of Folk Arts Partnerships. We hope that this report marks the beginning of a new era, where the impactful and varied work of state folklife programs might be more deeply articulated, fortified, and understood.

Back in 1973, the NEA awarded $10,000 grants to the state arts councils of Maryland and Tennessee to pilot what would become the first Folk Arts Partnership programs (aka "state folklife programs") at State Arts Agencies. From these modest beginnings sprang a remarkable national infrastructure for the documentation, presentation, and elevation of folklife in the United States.

Where there were two Folk Arts Partnership programs at the outset, there are more than forty active today. This infrastructure has nurtured a blossoming of cultural heritage festivals, publications, sound recordings, museum exhibitions, archives, and local and regional folklife programs. The rise of cultural heritage programs in the name of public service is a testament to the success of the 1973 NEA pilot, the effectiveness of fieldwork-driven outreach, and to the collaborative support of our federal partners at the American Folklife Center and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage.

The late George Carey, Maryland's first state folklorist, filed a final report after that first full year of the pilot program that is worth reading today. It's a candid, colorful, and prescient report that remains remarkably relevant some four decades later. [Carey's 8 page report can be read here]

From the beginning, the NEA and its State Arts Agency partners envisioned two major strategic goals for state folklife programs: to acknowledge and support the remarkable heritage arts of rural, working-class, inner-city, and immigrant communities, and to create positions and programs (state folklorists, fieldwork, grants, and archives) that could effectively bridge the resources of arts agencies to these often hard-to-reach communities.

Over the decades, the state folklife programs (administratively, we call them "Folk Arts Partnerships," which is how they will be addressed throughout the report) have - like the strongest of living traditions - dynamically evolved and changed to meet the needs and challenges of residents, economics, and institutions.

As we inch towards the half-century mark of these programs, it is wise to ask ourselves a number of questions: What do we do, and how do we do it? Who and what are our priorities - historically, and today? What are our most utilized and effective tools? What is the impact of our work?

Those of us who have worked in or with state folklife programs have deeply informed answers to these questions. But how might our answers change when we look at all of the Folk Arts Partnership programs, as a collective national infrastructure?

The Folk & Traditional Arts staff of the NEA has collaborated with the NEA Office of Research & Analysis (ORA) to learn more about the national, collective story of Folk Arts Partnerships. The attached report - which is the first phase of a multi-phase initiative - draws from the applications and final reports of Folk Arts Partnership programs from FY13-15, and sketches out a national portrait of our work.

We hope you find this report instructive and useful. And, as we stand on the precipice of the next 50 years for the field, we hope you are inspired to ask, "What's next?"


Clifford R. Murphy, PhD
Director, Folk & Traditional Arts, National Endowment for the Arts

NEA Folk & Traditional Arts Motion Graphic
Folk & Traditional Arts Staff

Clifford Murphy
Folk & Traditional Arts Director
[email protected]

Bill Mansfield
Folk & Traditional Arts Specialist
[email protected]

Cheryl Schiele
Folk & Traditional Arts Specialist 
[email protected]

Jennie Terman
Assistant Grants Management Specialist
[email protected]

Erin Waylor 
Division Coordinator
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