June 8, 2021

The Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) will join the Southwest Folklife Alliance and the First Peoples Fund to strengthen the folk & traditional arts field through a new National Folklife Network.

The Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA), a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of Arizona with more than 48 years of experience producing and interpreting programs serving grassroots cultural practitioners along the US-Mexico border, has been selected to enter into a two-year, one million-dollar, cooperative agreement with the National Endowment for the Arts to design and launch a new National Folklife Network (NFN). The new initiative is charged with strengthening the folk and traditional arts field through training, fieldwork, convenings, community collaborations, field scans, and cultural asset mapping in seven designated areas in the continental United States and Alaska.

“The decades-long support of folk and traditional arts by the National Endowment for the Arts has demonstrated how that support benefits rural and poverty-bound communities, helping them raise up their rich creative traditions and celebrate their communities. We are excited to work with the Southwest Folklife Alliance and its consortium collaborators to establish a strong folk and traditional arts presence in each of the seven identified regions and take this important step towards equity for all regions and populations across the nation,” said Ann Eilers, acting chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), a heritage arts and community development organization serving the nation’s most populous state, and First Peoples Fund (FPF), a South Dakota-based national nonprofit that is one of the most important support networks for Native American artists, will join SFA in a consortium partnership to study the existing infrastructure for support of the folk and traditional arts in four rural areas and three urban centers. Together, the three partners will establish new systems of networking, mentorship, and support that can incentivize investments and greater visibility for traditional art practices in these areas.

The seven regions of focus for this effort were identified in the 2019 Arts Endowment study Living Traditions: A Portfolio Analysis of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Folk & Traditional Arts Program. The report noted significant gaps in the national arts funding map for the folk and traditional arts in the Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Rocky Mountain West, Alaska, and in urban centers with high indexes of poverty east of the Mississippi River.

“These seven regions are rich in knowledge, practices, and assets of cultural pride and resiliency; yet, for various reasons, they have been hindered in achieving greater visibility, decision-making, and sustainability for the heritage artists and organizations in their communities,” said Dr. Maribel Alvarez, Associate Dean for Community Engagement at the University of Arizona, who will direct the project for the Southwest Folklife Alliance. “The aim of this new network is not to become yet another institutional gatekeeper for national resources, but rather to facilitate the organic strength that exists among traditional arts practitioners derived from sovereignty, wisdom, and deep knowledge of their own capacities.”

Over the course of twenty-four months, from June 2021 through May 2023, the consortium will identify a cohort in each of the seven regions consisting of an anchor organization as well as related organizations and individuals. As the cooperator, the Southwest Folklife Alliance will be responsible for coordinating with ACTA and FPF consultative services, training, and logistical support to strengthen the NFN regional cohorts in their own sustainable goals and strategies. Additionally, the NFN work will be enhanced by an active communications campaign that will collect and disseminate stories about the richness of cultural diversity and heritage practices in each region and a new NFN website to share program highlights and resources.

Artists and organizations wanting to learn more about the design, timeline, and strategic initiatives of the new network, or explore ways to get involved, can contact Dr. Alvarez.


Maribel Alvarez
Director, National Folklife Network & Associate Dean for Community Engagement, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, University of Arizona
Southwest Folklife Alliance: 520-621-4046 (office)

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