May 2, 2011

JMaster Filipino kulintang musician and 1995 National Heritage Fellow Danongan Kalanduyan.oin us in sharing your stories about National Heritage Fellows as we continue to document the far-reaching meaning and impact of this vital National Endowment for the Arts program.  Please take this quick 5-minute survey to tell us about an experience you’ve had with a fellow or by participating in a traditional arts experience.  Follow this link to share your story:

ACTA will continue to compile and share the results with you, the field, and policy-makers in an effort to articulate the value that the National Heritage Fellowships and the folk & traditional arts field bring to our communities – locally, nationally, and globally.



Responses are already coming in:

Master Japanese-American dancer and 1987 National Heritage Fellow Fujima Kansuma (right).Madame Fujima Kansuma is one of the most gracious people that I know. Her dancing and her teaching skills have made an indelible mark on the Japanese American community. I had the pleasure of being in Washington, DC when she received the National Heritage Award. An experience to be remembered forever.

–Jerry Yoshitomi, Port Hueneme

Madame Fujima Kansuma is carrying out Japanese tradition of classical dance in finest form par with native land of this art. She aims excellence in whole presentation as stage arts and does not compromise. I admire her for it because it cost her a lot yet she knows aesthetic element is essential in Japanese performing art.  I was with her in Washington when she presented Japanese dance Kagami Jishi (danced by her daughter) for the National Heritage Fellow ceremony. It was my honor to provide Hayshi (percussion) for this performance.” 

–Katada Kikusa, Redondo Beach, California

My memorable and meaningful experience was with Loren Bommelyn. He had been working for a long time to build a dance house for the Tolowa winter solstice dances. They had not had a dance house in over 100 years. Because The Ink People had been involved in helping get grants in support of the project, I was invited to attend one of the dances. I drove to Crescent City and beyond, then turned up the river, eventually arriving at the dance house in time for the community dinner. Everyone was welcoming and the dinner was wonderful. People began to gather in the dance house, which was beautiful. Great beams of old growth cedar, which smelled heavenly. Finally, the dancers came out and danced, flickering in the firelight. It was all very magical. I felt truly blessed to have been able to witness and participate, since all attending are also participants in the prayers.

Libby Maynard, Eureka

Master Mexican mariachi musician and 1990 National Heritage Fellow Nati Cano.

I recently spent the weekend with National Heritage Fellow, Nati Cano, and maestro of mariachi music. He was leading a workshop for 400 students from all over the state of California at Radio Bilingüe’s Viva El Mariachi Festival. He is the foremost exponent of mariachi teaching in the U.S., not to mention the musical significance of his music. His leadership has spawned a “Mariachi Movement” in the U.S. involving youth who are learning to play this infectious music at more and more advanced levels. I was reminded again, about the meaning of the National Heritage Fellowship as I observed the inspiration and wisdom that he imparted to his students. There is no other national award that recognizes people who are the artistic geniuses of their specific localized cultural traditions. The National Heritage Fellowship that honored Nati Cano is a way that the rest of the American people can come to know him and appreciate his contribution.

                                                              –Amy Kitchener, Fresno

Master Chicano singer and 2007 National Heritage Fellow Augustin Lira.I am a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the Central Valley of California for 11 years. Having all my family in Mexico and feeling alone and lost in a country with a different language and culture, I tried to link with cultural activities in Spanish. To my surprise I found Agustin Lira, a Chicano who had received the National Heritage Fellowship, and who has played a prominent role in keeping our Latino roots alive through his music and community theatre. My relationship with him was limited to attending his performances; however since January of 2011 our family had the fortune to become closer to this talented and humble artist. My 8-year old son is now taking music classes with Agustin and is developing a passion for Chicano, and other forms of Latin American music. I am excited that this will perpetuate our Latino culture even though my son was born in the U.S.

Nayamin Martinez-Cossío, Fresno


I was a member of the Folk Arts Panel at NEA during that period when the National Heritage program was first being discussed. Based on my experience in Japan, I urged the panel to consider the Japanese Intangible Cultural Properties program as a model, because the idea behind it was to recognize the tradition and the heritage embodied in the artist rather than only recognizing an outstanding individual. During all my 10 years as a member of the National Council on the Arts it was a continuing battle to get the other members of the council to understand that it was the individual as a bearer of a long tradition that was being honored and recognized. It was this one vitally important distinction that set the Folk Arts Program apart from all the others. It is indeed a very sad piece of news to hear that this is now being forgotten. How many years will it take for all those fortuitous elements to come together once more?

–Robert Garfias, Irvine, CA


As a panelist several times for the National Heritage Fellowship Award, I have understood the importance of this award not only to the recipients but to the country living out the deeper meaning of its national motto, “E pluribus unum” – from the many, one. There is no other national arts award that so clearly demonstrates that despite ethnic, cultural and racial differences, leadership in a traditional art genre represents a summit expression of what it is to be an American today. Today’s New York Times (April 11, 2011) carries two stories relevant to this theme: the Western Folklife Center in Elko, NV and its endorsement by Senator Reid has become a hot-button for those who would argue against any public support for the arts. In New York, the World Music Institute has announced the retirement of its founding director, Robert Browning, in difficult economic times. Both of these institutions have been pillars of the American folk and traditional arts scene and have sponsored performances and exhibitions that have featured National Heritage Fellows. It is more than ironic that in the administration of the first president of the United States with clearly multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural personal history that an award with the symbolic weight of the National Heritage Fellowship should be pushed to the curb. This must not happen.

–David Roche, San Francisco, CA


“The NHFs recognize the living intangible treasures of our time which, perhaps like no other country, represents a staggering diversity of traditions so vital to cultural and community health. The acknowledgement of these master artists serves to reinforce their importance in articulating the socio-cultural American fabric. Every year that the NHF announces its fellowships, I have been deeply moved by the artists who are recognized; it is a validation of artists who are creating and contributing to their communities, and whose mastery is something this nation can be proud of. The NHF is one of the few national bodies which recognized and supports individual artists at a national scale. More critically, it serves to highlight artists who, for the most part, are not acknowledged by other arts sector agencies.  Through the NHF, the NEA stands behind powerful American cultural values of rigor and diversity.”

–Anonymous, San Francisco, CA


“My husband, Ali Akbar Khan, was awarded the fellowship in 1997. We were offered the opportunity to bring our three children with us to the week long festivities in Washington D.C. We had dinners and get togethers with the other recipients and their families which enriched our children’s lives as well as our own. It was very humbling to be in the presence of so many caring and accomplished individuals. Each of the award recipients in my husband’s award year had given a great deal of their time to educating Americans in their craft and the love and humor expressed by these kind and confident folks was quite overwhelming. The staff of the NEA treated all of us with great warmth. It was obvious that they deeply valued what they were doing. Being involved in the whole process brought out such a sense of pride in my children for what their father had accomplished in his life, and helped them to see him in a different light. He became part of a greater picture than they had previously realized. We all will treasure our time in Washington and with all of the recipients forever.  This is a great tradition and it should not be taken lightly if we value art, intelligence and compassion in this country.”

–Mary Khan, San Anselmo, CA


“I was always amazed that I was able to spend time and learn from such a world-class, world-renowned, and accomplished musician as Dr. Ali Akbar Khan, National Heritage Fellow 1997. I also learned something about Indian culture that I thought was missing from our American culture, though paradoxically this connection with Indian culture allowed me to learn and understand more about my own, American culture.  I think that it was primarily because of Dr. Khan’s inclusiveness, and personal kindness that so many people were able to get to know him and study with him, and some did so for many, many years. Now that he has passed, many, many people miss him – both as a person and as a creative artist.”

–Patricia Brothers, Fairfax, CA


“National Heritage Fellowship Award is a lifetime achievement which is also very competitive. It made me proud of sharing my arts with fellow Filipinos in the US especially in the State of California. I received this NEA Award in September 1995 at the White House hosted by former First Lady Hillary Clinton and former NEA Chairman Jane Alexander.”

–Danongan “Danny” Kalanduyan, San Francisco, California


“Learning the Maguindanaoan kulintang music from Master Danongan Kalanduyan has made my life fulfilling in many ways. I had the honor of studying and performing with him for over a decade. When I returned to kulintang, after a long hiatus while raising my children, my youngest daughter also studied with me. It was fantastic watching my young daughter out-play me. There are many wonderful memories, my favorites are of jamming during rehearsals, especially when he would improvise on the gandingan when inspired by the music, spirit and fine playing of the Palibuniyan Kulintang Ensemble. We would also laugh and scream, when his skills would outdo the young men practicing on the agongs for the agong contest played with the song, “Didtu.” Since the music is from our pre-colonial heritage, I would sometimes fall into an “otherworldly” space, with spirit pulling me into a realm that Western society is unfamiliar with. As an American born Pilipino–of Illocano and Pangasinan roots, I am honored that my teacher allowed me to visit his hometown of Piang, Cotabato, stay in his family home and play music with his family. It was there that I recognized the same joy and laughter observing all the men in the community test each others’ skills on the agongs, a scene we had replicated during our rehearsals. I was told by a Kalagan elder of Mindanao that the largest gong is the ancestor gong–the gong that calls you home. It turned out to be true. Kulintang music led me to the Philippines finally in 2006, searching for my indigenous roots…and again to the Northern Philippines in 2008 –to the sounds of the gangsa gongs, rhythms that my own people had before they were colonized. In both places, the music is a community event, although the dance and music are very distinctly different. The strength of a people is reflected in its coherence as a community, in how members help each other in a collective manner. This is the spirit of what I learned while performing with the group, as I still collaborate artistically with many of Master Kalanduyan’s students. Although I am part of a large diaspora of Pilipinos around the world, I am grounded in my roots and I believe it was the kulintang that helped me have strong roots to be the person I am today. I know where my ancestors have been, I know where I am and I can see where not only I, but my descendents will be going. It is a positive future. For this I am very grateful. In gratitude, I salute my teacher, Master Danongan Kalanduyan.”

–Holly Calica, San Francisco, California


“Having been a music teacher in California since the 1970’s, I was surprised to discover that the leading music education organization in our state had never had the experience of collaborating with a National Heritage Fellow. When assuming a position of leadership in the California Association for Music Education (CMEA) in mid-2005, I set out to have our membership learn just what we had been missing. In 2008 San Francisco based Kulintang master, Danongan Kalanduyan and his kulitang ensemble was the first NEA National Heritage Fellowship award winner to make a presentation at a CMEA event.  His session featured incredible musicianship, dancing, and fascinating information placing this centuries old practice in context for our understanding. While everyone in the audience was familiar with the West-African talking drum tradition, they were astonished to learn of the “talking gong” tradition of the Mindinao region of the Philippines that Mr. Kalanduyan demonstrated – first speaking and then playing the interpretation on the gongs. There is no comparable group of this tradition in the United States today, and he is just one of the many treasures of this NEA program residing in California. A Great Nation Deserves Great Art, the motto for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was on glorious display that day in Sacramento.”

–Richard Rodriguez, Bakersfield, California


Mr. Roland Freeman is well known in the African American quilt community for helping us preserve our handmade treasures with his breathtaking photography. Several years ago I had the pleasure of attending one of the museum installations of “Communion of Spirits,” his travelling quilt exhibit, at the California Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. I did not get to meet him in person at that time, so getting a phone call from him recently in response to my email, was a nice surprise. His exhibits and books are beautiful inspirations to all visual artists.”

–Allyson Allen, Sun City, California


“I studied with Francisco Aguabella at UCLA for several years just before he passed away. It was an incredible experience although he was a very tough teacher!”

–Beto Gonzalez, Los Angeles, California


“We hire many National Heritage Fellows to perform at the Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing every year. The prestige of the award helps bring crowds to our festival and makes for memorable performances. Downtown East Lansing is alive with wonderful musicians, dancers, storytellers and others.”

–LuAnne Kozma, Novi, Michigan


Bruce Subiyay Miller did more to preserve traditional arts than any artist I have met. He had 1000s of students of Salish weaving, basketry, Longhouse traditions, songs, and Twana dance.”

–Willie Smyth, Olympia, Washington


“My first and most memorable experience with a NHF nomination was with Hmong weaver Yang Fang Nhu in Providence, RI in 1987. After a series of interviews with  Yang Fang Nhu and family members (none of whom spoke English), I discovered that she had been a weaver in her home village in Laos. A photograph of a Hmong loom by a volunteer doctor to that part of the world gave us a good source for the construction – by a local carpenter – of a Hmong loom. When brought to the home of the Yang family, the new loom only resulted in puzzled looks an laughs; Yang Fang Nhu’s husband proceeded to modify our attempt with a machete (husbands/men make looms for women weavers); other problems surfaced, such as the requirement of bamboo large enough to satisfy other parts of the loom (my assistant and I became members of the Bamboo Society of America), experiments with a variety of threads, etc.  Many lessons about fieldwork and interviews were learned, and many laughs and meals were shared! But a delighted Yang Fang Nhu proceeded to weave at a variety of public events.  Between my nomination and the scheduling of the NH Awards, the Yang family moved to Detroit; she is listed as a 1988 MI awardee.  No less satisfying – but much less adventurous and unpredictable – was my nomination of Nick Benson, owner and manager of one of the oldest – if not the oldest – continuously running business in the country, The John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI. The shop has specialized in the carving of stone inscriptions for over 300 years; Nick Benson inherited his skills from his father, John Benson, who himself learned from his father. Both John and Nick also benefited from additional training, John at the RI School of Design, and Nick at the State University of NY (Purchase) as well as with master letter carvers in Switzerland. Both created inscriptions on many of our monuments, such as The National Gallery of Art, the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Boston Public Library, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Center, to name just a few. Many gravestones (including for Tennessee Williams) bear the mark of the Stevens Shop. The shop bears the marks, and exhibits the work of several generations of letter carvers; some of the tools and machinery used in times past give the shop a feeling of an enduring legacy. Always generous with his time and information, I visited Nick Benson on many occasions; before  receiving his NHF in 2007, Nick had been a master in our RI Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program, as well as being the recipient of a RI State Fellowship in Folk & traditional Arts. Both of these were important to me because they led to encounters with remarkable people, many hours of acquiring knowledge about traditions I had not been familiar with, and on-going learning  about what is a the heart of our field: on-going fieldwork.”

–Winnie Lambrecht, Lincoln, Rhode Island


“As state folklorist, I have nominated one National Heritage Fellow – Jerry Brown (1992) and written support letters for other successful nominations from Alabama and elsewhere. I have personally seen how the honor of this fellowship has positively impacted traditional artists. I think Jerry Brown would tell you that he would not be in the pottery business today if not for this fellowship.”

–Joey Brackner, Montgomery, Alabama


“I have worked with basketmaker LeRoy Graber of Freeman, South Dakota, for nearly ten years in my role as Folk Arts Program Coordinator for the South Dakota Arts Council. LeRoy received a Heritage Fellowship in 2009. He is one of the kindest, most generous people I know (he donated all of his fellowship award money to local charities), and his quiet pride in his German-Russian Mennonite heritage guides his life. He learned willow basketry from his grandfather and has taught it to his children, two of whom are actively carrying on the tradition. He has also taught a number of others in South and North Dakota. A visit with LeRoy and his wife Virginia always brightens my day. We usually sit at the kitchen table over coffee, tea and cookies, and LeRoy always has a few new jokes to share. He is invariably cheerful, curious, and welcoming, and it’s easy to see why he is beloved in his community and makes friends wherever he goes. I am honored to count myself among those friends, and to have the privilege of knowing such a talented and unselfish man.”

–Andrea Graham, Laramie, Wyoming


“I worked with Mary Louise Defender Wilson in North Dakota on a project designed to prepare traditional artists for school residencies. I was so impressed with her deep knowledge of Dakotah Native traditions, stories and culture and with her lifelong commitment to making sure new generations of Dakotah know their intangible cultural heritage as well as making this heritage known to residents of North Dakota of all cultural backgrounds.”

–Susan Eleuterio, Highland, Indiana


“For the last twenty years, I’ve had the honor of working with many talented  Wabanaki basketmakers on conserving this endangered tradition.  The National Heritage Fellowship Program has played an important part in this revitalization. In 1994, Passamaquoddy basketmaker Mary Mitchell Gabriel, from Princeton, Maine became the first Native American traditional artist from the Northeast to receive a National Heritage Award.  This award was particularly significant because it not only celebrated her exceptional talent as a basket maker but an entire community’s cultural heritage – the Wabanaki tribes of Maine. Such recognition had a tremendous ripple effect, helping to inspire a whole new generation of traditional basketmakers including Jeremy Frey, a 32 year Passamaquoddy basketmaker and recent USA Fellow.”

–Kathleen Mundell, Camden, Maine


“My first real encounter with folk arts at a high level was the Heritage Awards. It must have been in 1988 because I will never forget seeing Michael Flatley dance. I swear he crossed that stage at the Lizner Auditorium in two leaps. I was working at the California Arts Council. Barbara Rahm had been hired as the folklorist and had some funding to bring me to the Heritage Awards. At the time, I was in charge of the touring and presenting program at the CAC and she wanted to conspire with me. But first, I needed educated. Folk arts was Grandma Moses and that was about the extent of my knowledge. Willa Mae Ford Smith taught me how to clap my hands so I could be heard. Sister Haberl carried on a conversation with me while her fingers were manipulating bobbins at high speed, making lace like chatting with Lang Lang playing the piano. I learned a great deal from Barbara, and from Bess and Dan Sheehy and Barry Bergey, the folks arts dynasty. This opened a whole new world for me. The same kind of excitement I felt when in my high school music appreciation class, the teacher but down the needle on Brubeck’s “Take Five.” I never heard such a thing. I knew classical and pop/rock. Some folk music but this took me to an entirely different place.  Folk arts has done the same for me. In our office library I have a signed poster of the Masters of Mexican Music tour. We helped bring that tour to Gettysburg College and with the help of the Migrant Education program at the state we were able to reach and bring hundreds of Mexicanos and Chicanos to the ballroom. I remember so clearly that when the emcee shouted our the names of states in Mexico, there was cheering from the audience for their home state: Sonora! Sinaloa! Vera Cruz! Oaxaca! The Gettysburg Campus has never seen such a thing before a since. A very proud moment for all of us. Most of all, while at the CAC we conspired with California Presenters, Inc. and NCTA to put together an audacious tour of eight different cultural traditions found in California. I was the “bag man” for that, putting together about $250,000 from the NEA and the CAC, mostly from other peoples’ budgets at the CAC. The result was California Generations, a two-week tour of these traditions throughout California. There have been many satisfying moments in my 30 years in this business but I think that project tops the list. I can think of no discipline or genre that achieves both the high level of artistry and the diversity and powerful connection to community that we see in the folk arts.”

–Philip Horn, Harrisburg Pennsylvania


“I never knew about Lalo Guererro in my earlier years of Tejano music performance in the 1960’s, however unbeknownst to me the group of elders I performed with played Lalo’s work.   Later in my California college and performance days I learned of him. I met him at his elder age of 83, still performing. I began presenting him through a culture-specific music program I developed in 1994, which incorporated my Musica Chicana ensemble and a close artistic director’s ballet folklorico dance group. We felt his mentorship in the short relationship that provided us with his personal stories of life as a Chicano songwriter, musician, artist, and gracious person. When we learned of his passing we called his widow who told us he performed until one month in which he was hospitalized before departing at 88.”

–Robert Rivera Ojeda, Port Lavaca, Texas


“I flew from India to Washington DC to experience a remarkable artist receive his National Heritage Fellowship. Chitresh Das received his NHF in September 2009. What touched me the most were the speeches that each artist gave at the Library of Congress. It extended far more than just their respective arts, it was about Motherhood, about the beauty and depth of their country and culture. It is imperative that this Fellowship continues in the future.”

–Seema Mehta, Maharastra, Mumbai


“I am a senior student of Pandit Chitresh Das (2009 National Heritage Fellow). I wouldn’t even know where to start in describing what he has done for me.   I began studying with him 13 years ago when I was in college at U.C. Berkeley.  I am an Indian American who grew up in the suburbs and was on the path to a pretty typical life of college, job, kids, etc.   Little did I know how deeply that would change after I first stepped into Pt. Chitresh Das’ class. Today, I am co-director and senior instructor of Chitresh Das’ institution (Chhandam), which is one of the largest classical dance institutions in the world. I am a performing member of the Chitresh Das Dance Company and have toured all over India and the U.S both as a company member and as a solo artist. My life has purpose and I feel that I am an empowered woman with extraordinary goals of uplifting society and bringing peace and harmony to the world through my art. Not only am I able to be a leader within the Indian diaspora to engage them in deeper knowledge of Indian history and philosophy, but I also am part of making Indian classical art universally accessible and appreciated by people of all walks of life. I owe so much of this to the guidance and inspiration I receive from Pt. Chitresh Das everyday. He not only trains me relentlessly through blood, sweat, and tears, but he takes the time and patience to help open my mind, think out of the box, and carve my own individual path. He has done the same for all of his senior students and who have each developed into individual artists in their own rights. I am so happy that NEA was able to honor him as a National Heritage Fellow and brought light to this incredible legacy!”

–Rachna Nivas, San Francisco, California


“My Guruji, Pandit Chitresh Das, received a well-deserved Fellowship in 2009.  It was wonderful to see an artist be recognized in this way as someone who has truly preserved his art and built with his own sweat and desire a cultural institution and a legacy that will have lasting impacts on our society.  A phenomenal artist and human being.  There is little to no other recognition like this for those that truly contribute to the betterment of society through the arts in the way Pandit Das has.  And not only locally but making bridges nationally and internationally through his artistic excellence and firm belief in service to society.”

–Anjali, Oakland, California


“My experience with National Heritage Fellow – Pandit Chitresh Das has been ongoing since 1991. He is a phenomenal artist and exemplary teacher who has inspired me to take on the art form of Kathak as my vocation. His ability to transmit the universality of this classical Indian dance form has given me – a person not born into this culture – the opportunity to delve deeply into this art.”

–Anonymous, Kensington, California


“This experience was with Pandit Chitresh Das. He was selected as a National Heritage Fellow and through his teachings, performances and outreach has connected an entire community of people in Boston with this unique dance form–Kathak. It is significant because he helped me reconnect with my own heritage (Indian) after so many years.”

–Meenakshi Verma-Agrawal, Framingham, Massachusetts


Pandit Chitresh Das—I cannot overstate the profound influence and impact this one National Heritage Fellow has had on my life. The meaningful personal experience I have had with Pdt. Das began when I walked into his kathak dance class in February1972, at the Ali Akbar College of Music, Marin County, California. That moment led to ongoing years of intensive training and an extensive relationship with Pdt. Das as my teacher/guru/mentor. The teachings and guidance I received from him gave my life direction and put me on what has become my life’s path for the last thirty-nine years —performing, demonstrating, and teaching kathak. For the past eighteen years I have directed my own kathak dance school in the Boston area – an offshoot of his Chhandam School of Kathak. It is due to his incredible dedication and patience as a teacher that I, a native Californian, was able to flourish and grow into an art form from another culture. His faith in my abilities enabled me to overcome my many self-doubts and to become a solo kathak artist and teacher in my own right. Today I find myself in the unusual position of being a non-Indian teaching Indian classical dance to the India diaspora in the New England area, with students from ages five to sixty. And when I first began my studies with Pdt Das I could never have imaged that I would one day be carrying his legacy of kathak dance into academic settings, reaching hundreds of students at Tufts University, MIT, Harvard University, Smith and Wellesley Colleges. The depth and breadth of knowledge, cultural insights, self-awareness, inspiration and skills I, as well as my students, have received (and continue to receive) from Pd. Das have been immeasurable gifts.”

–Gretchen Hayden-Ruckert, Stowe, Massachusetts


“I met Pandit Chitresh Das in 1989 when I was just 9 years old. I wanted to learn kathak, and so my parents took me to his class. Little did we know, that this would, 20 years later, become my life’s vocation.   Pandit Das’ unique ability to energize and push you beyond what you thought was possible is what initially drew me to him. I remember him saying, ”m a 40 year old man, I can do this, how come you can’t? Through out the years, I’ve heard him say the same as a 50 year old man, and now as a 60 year old … I look forward to hearing him say the same as a 70 year old as well!   As I’ve grown up watching him, I’ve learned that there is so much more than just the pure exhilaration of pushing oneself past their own limits that makes his teachings so exemplary. It’s his vision that is years ahead of his colleagues. His belief in legacy — and passing down this tradition to the next generation. Never has there been a Guru so giving in his teaching — he always gives his 110% when teaching his students. And he has taught me that Kathak, as a classical Indian dance is not just a dance — it is a medium through which the history, philosophy, and culture of India is learned. Along with the organic math that is inherent in the Indian classical system — not a single Indian classical artist has broken down the math of Indian music the way that Pandit Das has in his technique of Kathak Yoga — a technique that, again, pushes him beyond all other colleagues in his vision.   Pandit Das, to me, is my Guru. Guru shows the light — and I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I not come across this light 22 years ago.”

–Antara, San Francisco, California


“My experience with a National Heritage Fellow involves Pandit Chitresh Das.  It is appropriate that NEA honored and recognized this artist as a Fellow because he truly is an incredible treasure for the arts community.  He opened my eyes to how traditional art can be a bridge to bring together people of different ages, gender, nationalities, education, color, regional customs and even the often disparate Indian Diaspora. And all of this is done without diluting the art form one bit and instead holding it to even higher standards.  I remember the experience where the joy of pure dance, flow of energy, breath, song, music, organically integrated math all came together in a crescendo where every dancer (professional and amateur) was connected as one with the entire experience.  Regardless of who we were, or where we came from, or what type of day we had, we were all united in bliss.  This is the type of experience that makes Pandit Chitresh Das a National Heritage Fellow.  Unity and joy in the excellence of dance.”

–Patel, El Dorado Hills, California


“My tremendous experience has been with NEA Fellow Pandit Chitresh Das.  His ability to open the minds and constantly push the bounds of the physical body to perform at the utmost is amazing.  I have known Pandit Das since 1977, when I had just arrived from India, and was lucky to be able to learn the art of Kathak dance and the culture of India.  He has helped “open” my mind, awareness and has fostered appreciation of other cultures and art forms.  He has always encouraged us to appreciate and support all art forms, so as to enrich ourselves.  Additionally, we help educate and promote as we have learned.  Today, my 25 year old daughter has chosen to continue Kathak dance, as she continues to have a full plate of pre-med courses and MCAT exams. But to keep her sanity, she still has room and time for her dance and continues to do her part in promoting the culture, as she nourishes her soul.  Pandit Das is a unique artist in his own right. He is entertainer extraordinaire, and uses every moment as a teaching moment both with 5 year olds to 65 year olds.”

–Amrit Mann, San Leandro, California


“I have been a student of Pandit Chitresh Das for over 10 years.  He is one of the most important artists to grow roots in the US. The quality and depth of artistry that he possesses is astounding and extremely rare.  What is even more important is that he expects this same level of artistry from his students and trains all of us to be missionaries of an amazing dance form.  Today Pandit Das is the artistic director of the largest Indian classical dance school in the country.  To allow him to continue the work he has been doing for over 40 years is of the utmost importance.  The world is a better place because of artists like him. I have personally benefited from his teachings – I am more self aware, more respectful, more culturally aware and more happy than I could have been had he not been in my life.”

–Ritu Mathur, Danville, California


“I was so pleased and proud when they recognized Pandit Chitresh Das last year.  He has worked tirelessly to raise the standard of excellence in Kathak and establishing the art form in the Diaspora in the US for the past 40 years. Not only is he and unparalleled artist, but he is a one of a kind teacher, inspirational and visionary.”

–Anonymous, San Francisco, California


“My personal experience with Pandit Chitrresh Das, a national Heritage Fellow, has been an incredible and eye-opening one. As a student of Kathak, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to study with a master artists such as him, who has dedicated his lifetime not just to elevating and promoting the artform, but to also to  invest his time in training the future generation to extremely high standards. There are very few such artists and we are lucky to have Pandit Chitresh Das as one of them.”

–Poonam Narkar, Berkeley, California


“My two daughters and I learn Kathak, an Indian classical dance form from Pt. Chitresh Das, a world renowned Kathak master and National Heritage Fellow. I deem myself fortunate to have access to such an artist who believes in the preservation of Classical Arts for future generations. I also feel immense gratitude to have my two daughters get exposure to their culture through dance and believe that they will become better world citizens because of this association.”

–Anonymous, San Jose, California


Pandit Chitresh Das—I cannot overstate the profound influence and impact this one National Heritage Fellow has had on my life.  The meaningful personal experience I have had with Pdt. Das began when I walked into his Kathak dance class in February1972, at the Ali Akbar College of Music, Marin County, California.   That moment led to ongoing years of intensive training and an extensive relationship with Pdt. Das as my teacher/guru/mentor.   The teachings and guidance I received from him gave my life direction and put me on what has become my life’s path for the last thirty-nine years —performing, demonstrating, and teaching Kathak.  For the past eighteen years I have directed my own Kathak dance school in the Boston area – an offshoot of his Chhandam School of Kathak. It is due to his incredible dedication and patience as a teacher that I, a native Californian, was able to flourish and grow into an art form from another culture. His faith in my abilities enabled me to overcome my many self-doubts and to become a solo Kathak artist and teacher in my own right. Today I find myself in the unusual position of being a non-Indian teaching Indian classical dance to the India Diaspora in the New England area, with students from ages five to sixty. And when I first began my studies with Pdt Das  I could never have imaged that I would one day be carrying his legacy of Kathak dance into academic settings, reaching hundreds of students at Tufts University, MIT, Harvard University, Smith and Wellesley Colleges. The depth and breadth of knowledge, cultural insights, self-awareness, inspiration and skills I, as well as my students, have received (and continue to receive) from Pd. Das have been immeasurable gifts.”

–Gretchen Hayden, Stow, Massachusetts


“I began working with Pandit Chitresh Das only a few months ago. I have been touched by depth in which he reaches people. I remember commenting on a poster for the Upaj documentary shown in March 2011 and I asked if he liked it. The response I received was that of a true teacher — always provoking his students to think, analyze and make connections on their own. He told me it was not about what he thought, but what I thought, and what it meant, what it says to artists, to students, and to the modern societies that are exposed to this crossing of cultures. His impact reaches far and above his students and his art form and touches everyone he comes in contact with. I hope that support for National Heritage Fellows remains strong to so that our nation’s vital artists and everything they do for our communities don’t fade.”

–SOC, San Francisco, California


“Pandit Chitresh Das is a National Heritage Fellow who has changed my life through his Kathak Dance performances and inspirational Kathak dance retreats.  I have been fortunate enough to attend 2 of his retreats in the Boston area over the last 12 years and each time, I leave feeling a deeper sense of who I am and what dance arts means to me.  I am American born and identify myself as American with Indian heritage.  My parents were born in Delhi, India and immigrated to the US in 1968.  I was not in touch with Indian culture until I started learning Kathak dance and immersed myself in Pandit Chitresh Das’s style of teaching which includes dance as well as culture, math, philosophy, history and most importantly respect for ourselves, all the teachers before us, our parents and our fellow human beings. Pandit Chitresh Das is a truly inspirational artist and I’m truly proud to see him recognized as a National Heritage Fellow.”

— Shelley Chhabra, Arlington, MA


“I’ve always had a memorable and meaningful experience with Sophiline Cheam Shapiro because she is my mentor and my dance instructor. She is also like a second mother to me. Every practice with Sophiline was memorable because movements were taught, followed by stories of her own memorable experiences. The most memorable thing she ever said to me was, ‘ No matter where you are on stage, whether you are in the front or the back, if you are a good dancer, people will notice you.’  This is now my motto, and this is what I strive to teach to my students.”

–Sophy Nuth, Long Beach, California


“My favorite memory with Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is when I first met her at Khmer Arts Academy. She became my teacher and has passed on her motivation to dance to many of her students, including me. She is one of the best and most talented Cambodian classical dancers. She has inspired me to chase my dreams and be the best that I can be.”

–Alex Ouklore, Cypress, California


“I taught a course on Globalization and arts in Asia in UC- Santa Barbara this winter and taught Sophiline Cheam Shapiro’s ‘Othello’ in Cambodian Classical dance. Ms. Shapiro was very kind to have sent me the DVD of this production. The students were riveted by the work. Many of them had grown up near Long Beach and had no idea that this rich art form is being nurtured by the Cambodian community in Long beach in Ms. Shapiro’s leadership. The fact that the US had played such a key role to this engendered classical dance form by supporting the Cambodian-Americans in Long Beach and by supporting Ms. Shapiro’s endeavors made them realize the impact the United States has made to the arts in the world and feel proud of themselves as Americans….  The national heritage fellowship is a testimony of the greatness of the United States is supporting many world art traditions or individual artists which or who may not have as much support in their countries of origin for political, economic or a variety of reasons……”

–Sohini Ray, La Canada Flintridge, California


“How do I express the immense gratitude I feel for the gifts that my teacher Sophiline Cheam Shapiro has passed on to me in a few words?  How do I share the wholesomeness of our experiences in a few phrases?  My relationship with Neak Kru Sophiline is going on eight years now and she has become, all at once, my teacher, my mother, my mentor, my friend.  I am forever thankful for her love, kindness, and generosity in the studio and her home, both in Long Beach and in Cambodia, where I learned to sing and dance from the core of my blood and bones. I remember, as a seventeen year old boy, crying to her in despair because my parents would not let me dance. I remember, as a twenty-one year old young man, listening to her sing to her aged teacher Soth Sam On. Her soft voice was like a lullaby for the gray haired woman who, although once the revered star performer of demonic roles, was then barely able to move.    I remember cooking with her, cleaning with her, shopping with her, and performing with her too. Lok Ta Chheng Phon — her uncle, a revered artist and visionary cultural force, Cambodia’s Minister of Information and Culture from 1980 – 1990 — once said about Cambodian classical dance in a New York Times article, “From Angkor Wat, seeds from that earth have been taken here and planted here and will grow and blossom in this new earth.” Neak Kru Sophiline is the gardener. And she is cultivating an art form, a way of thinking, a way of being, a way of knowing in the bodies of her students.  She inspires a resilient knowledge, strength, and beauty within her students and community through her work as a teacher and artist. And today, as someone who works transnationally, she grows possibility, grows life, grows leaders from the mud of society.”

–Prumsodun Ok, Long Beach, CA


Carmencristina Moreno, Mexican ranchera singer and daughter of traditional Mexican singers, is a valley treasure and was recognized as a national treasurer with the Heritage Fellow award.  I first heard her sing in the late 1980’s and since that time she has been involved with community events that I support through Arte Americas.  She has given monthly concerts, classes and now participates in our programming each year.  Carmencristina’s voice is unique; she has recorded at least 5 albums and is now working on another one with songs of the Revolution. The Fresno Latino community knows Carmencristina and when we saw her go through cancer therapy, we had a benefit performance for her. The recognition meant a lot to her and to us as a form of validation and excellence.”

–Nancy Marquez, Madera, California


“My dance Guru who is my inspiration and a world-renowned artist was awarded the fellowship and it was very exciting to see Classical Indian art recognized in US.”

–Ashyka  Dave, Pleasanton, California


“I remember attending a Greek festival in Ridgefield Connecticut, where NHF Ilias Kementzides was playing dance music on the lyra. The crowd was first quieted by the single musician playing in the center of the dance floor – previously an energetic band had been performing. All eyes and ears were on Ilias, as he played Pontic Greek folk melodies that must have brought back memories to many in the crowd. Then as his playing intensified, a line of Pontic Greek dancers (led by his son and grandchildren) came out and danced around Ilias. It was a magical moment.”

–Anonymous, Torrington, Connecticut


“As a student at Wesleyan University, I had the opportunity to study traditional Irish singing, “Sean-nos” with National Heritage Fellow, Joe Heaney.  It was a life-changing experience for me as it helped me to explore my own Irish heritage and to better understand the singing traditions within my own extended Irish American family.”

–Ellen McHale, Esperance, New York


“I met Eppie Archuleta, Hispanic weaver from Alamosa, Colorado, in 1985.  She had the most amazing work ethic of anyone I had ever met, and her entire life was defined by her weaving.  She knew the history of all the patterns, she knew how to make dyes from plants, she wanted to build a weaving cooperative so that she could teach others and make sure this art would survive.  Her husband, children, grand children and great grand children were all in awe of her.  It was inspiring just to be in her presence.  It was as if she embodied, in her weaving and in herself, the spirit of her entire culture, her culture’s history, values and aesthetics.”

–Dana Everts-Boehm, Murfressboro, Tennessee


“I met Eppie Archuleta, Hispanic weaver from Alamosa, Colorado, in 1985. She had the most amazing work ethic of anyone I had ever met, and her entire life was defined by her weaving. She knew the history of all the patterns, she knew how to make dyes from plants, she wanted to build a weaving cooperative so that she could teach others and make sure this art would survive. Her husband, children, grand children and great grand children were all in awe of her. It was inspiring just to be in her presence. It was as if she embodied, in her weaving and in herself, the spirit of her entire culture, her culture’s history, values and aesthetics.”

–Dana Everts-Boehm, Murfreesboro, Tennessee


“Although I never personally met  Nikitas Tsimouri, I worked closely with folklorists who documented his traditional Greek bagpipe music in the film “Every Island Has Its Own Songs.”  I was present when the Tsimouris family shared the honor that the Florida Folklife Program gave to Nikitas, and it was rewarding to see how this honor helped him to earn the first National Heritage Fellowship given to a folk artist in Florida.”



“I worked for National Heritage Fellow, Joe Wilson for a number of years while at the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) in DC.  I learned so much from him about how to present traditional and folk artists.  Today I direct my own festivals/events and apply what I learned from him in my current work. At NCTA, I also had the opportunity to meet and work with the Heritage Fellows who traveled to Washington to receive their awards, but my most memorable experience took place in 2004 when I was the road manager for the Masters of Mexican Music Tour.  I spent two full months that year with three National Heritage Fellows – Jose Gutierrez, (1989), Nati Cano (1990), and Mingo Saldivar (2002). We all traveled on a 50-passenger bus – driving up and down both east and west coasts – performing in large cities and small towns along the way. I still get chills when I recall the children’s and school performances. These kids (Latino and non-Latino) couldn’t help themselves when the music started – bopping up and down in their seats, dancing in the aisles – experiencing music that was either familiar or unfamiliar to them – it didn’t matter.  Mexican pride and musical mastery radiated from the stage and these kids got to taste all of it.  I’ll never forget the sight or vibe from those shows.”

–Amy Grossmann, Mountain View, CA


“National Heritage fellow Chuck Campbell of Rochester, New York has enriched my life profoundly.  He is a master of the “sacred steel” guitar musical tradition rooted in the Holiness-Pentecostal worship services of the House of God, Keith Dominion. Chuck is thoroughly steeped in this vibrant African American tradition and has the greatest respect for the men who built the foundation of this passionate and unique form of musical expression.  The artistry of his performances is breathtaking, frequently moving church congregations and concert audiences to tears. Beyond his inventive musicianship, he serves as an eloquent ambassador for the music and the culture from which it springs.  He is a role model for hundreds of aspiring young musicians. His ability to share insights into his cultural community and foster inter-cultural communication is on a very high level, never failing to affect those in his presence.”
–Robert Stone, Gainesville, FL

“A Tale of Three National Heritage Fellows from southwest Louisiana: My life was changed by an encounter with two Cajun musicians, both of whom went on to become National Heritage Fellows: Dewey Balfa and Marc Savoy.  I’m not Cajun, I’m not even from the South, so why that music got to me in  that way, I’ll never know – it is one of the beautiful mysteries of the  power of music. So there I am, 21 years old, on the floor of the big hall at  San Diego State, sitting right in front of the stage, and Dewey Balfa and  Marc Savoy are playing fiddles and I’m crying my eyes out, feeling that my  whole life is about to undergo a huge shift. Which it did. I started making trips to southwest Louisiana to visit and learn from the musicians there, eventually receiving an Apprenticeship grant from the NEA to study with Dewey Balfa. I also connected with Creole musicians here in the Bay Area, and spent nearly 20 years playing Cajun and Creole dance music with a master accordion player, Danny Poullard, until his passing in 2001. It was on our first trip to Cajun country that we first met Michael Doucet, who also went on to become a National Heritage Fellow. At that time, there were just a handful of young people from southwest Louisiana who were interested in Cajun music, and the undisputed leader of them was Michael Doucet.  His fire, dedication, his insistence on having the music be part of  a living breathing tradition (not a museum piece), and his musical  creativity – these are qualities Michael shares with the greatest of Cajun fiddlers, Dennis McGee and Dewey Balfa.  I think it is no accident that Michael studied with both of them, but he did exactly what they did: took the music that had been passed on to him, and both preserved and changed it at the same time, putting their own stamp on the music.”

–Suzy Thompson, Berkeley, CA

“I don’t have a specific story. But I am humbled and impressed by the artists whom I’ve seen perform (and whose art works I’ve been able to hear and see). The US already does less to support heritage than many supposedly less-developed nations, this reduction in support saddens and embarrasses me.”

–CB Saeji, Los Angeles, California


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California’s National Heritage Fellows (1982-present)

Francisco Aguabella, Afro-Cuban Drummer, 1992
Herminia Albarrán Romero, Papel picado (paper cutting) artist, 2005
Anjani Ambegaokar, Kathak dancer, 2004
Jesus Arriada, Basque “bertsolari” poets, 2003
George Blake, Native American Craftsman (Hupa-Yurok), 1991
Loren Bommelyn, Tolowa singer, tradition bearer, basketmaker, 2002
Charles Brown, West Coast Blues Pianist & Composer, 1997
Natividad Cano, Mexican-American Mariachi Musican, 1990
Johnny Curutchet, Basque “bertsolari” poets, 2003
Chitresh Das, Kathak dancer, choreographer, 2009
Violet de Cristoforo, Haiku Poet, 2007
Kansuma Fujima, Japanese-American Dancer, 1987
Felipe García Villamil, Afro-Cuban drummer/santero, 2000
Ulysses “Uly” Goode, Western Mono basketmaker, 1999
Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero, Mexican-American Singer/Guitarist/Composer, 1991
“Queen” Ida Guillory, Zydeco singer and accordion player, 2009
Richard Avedis Hagopian, Armenian Oud Player, 1989
John Lee Hooker, Blues Guitarist/singer, 1983
Wen-yi Hua, Chinese Kunqu Opera Singer, 1997
Zakir Hussain, North Indian master tabla drummer, 1999
Khamvong Insixiengmai ,Southeast Asian Lao Singer, 1991
Danongan Kalanduyan, Filipino-American Kulintang Musician, 1995
Ali Akbar Khan, North Indian Sarod Player & Raga Composer, 1997
Agustin Lira, Chicano singer, musician, composer, 2007
Sosie Shizuye Matsumoto, Japanese Tea Ceremony master, 1994
Brownie McGhee, Blues Guitarist/singer, 1982
Carmencristina Moreno, Mexican American singer, composer, teacher, 2003
Bua Xou Mua, Hmong Musician, 1985
John Yoshio Naka, Bonsai Sculptor, 1992
Luis Ortega, Hispanic-American Rawhide Worker, 1986
Julia Parker, Kashia Pomo basketmaker, 2007
Manoochehr Sadeghi, Persian santour player, 2003
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, Cambodian classical dancer, choreographer, 2009
Chris Strachwitz, Record producer and label founder, 2000
Seiichi Tanaka, Taiko Drummer, dojo founder, 2001
Lily Vorperian, Armenian (Marash-style) Embroidery, 1994
Gussie Wells, African-American Quilter, 1991
Arbie Williams, African-American Quilter, 1991