Lovely Street Performer

Jennifer Murray

Delta Junction, United States

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Artist's Description

The Northwest Folklife organization was created informally in 1971 as a part of a program of the National Park Service for urban outreach, coordinated by the National Folk Festival Association (now the National Council for the Traditional Arts).

The first festival was produced over Memorial Day weekend, May, 1972, by the Seattle Folklore Society with a $6,000 grant from the City of Seattle, and the contribution of the facilities of the Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair.

The concept was to provide a high-quality public forum where the traditional and ethnic communities and artists of the Northwest Region of the National Park Service (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Western Montana) could present their music, dance performances and crafts. All performers were asked to contribute their participation in an event with no admission charge as an opportunity for community celebration and sharing.

The first Festival presented over 300 performers to a large, enthusiastic audience over the three day weekend, and was hailed as a successful and needed addition to Northwest arts programs. The promoters of the Festival and the Seattle Center decided to make it an annual event.

The Northwest Regional Folklife Festival Association was incorporated in January, 1973, as a Washington non-profit corporation to conduct the annual “Northwest Regional Folklife Festival.” It had a Board of Directors composed of representatives from the Seattle Folklore Society, the National Park Service, the City of Seattle and other individuals representing traditional and ethnic arts groups in the Northwest.

In 1981, the Festival hired its first full-time staff member. Until then, the Festival had been produced primarily by a volunteer staff, with a Festival Director hired on a part-time basis.

Starting in the early 1980s, the organization, now with a full-time staff, began expanding the scope of its activities beyond simply producing the Northwest Folklife Festival. Until 1984, the Festival was produced by the Seattle Folklore Society, which had tax-exempt status and experience. In 1984, the organization was reincorporated as “Northwest Folklife Festival,” under a charter qualifying for federal tax exempt status. Tax exempt status was obtained in 1986. Northwest Folklife then took over full production responsibilities for the Festival.

Additional staff were hired on a seasonal basis to handle programming, vendors, and public relations, making significant improvements in both the administrative and artistic management of the Festival, bringing in new sponsors, starting the “Friends of Folklife” program, and initiating an organized outreach to include members of an increasingly diverse regional population in the organization’s programs.

Activities were expanded to include participation in festivals in other parts of the Northwest, helping other communities with traditional and ethnic arts programs, sponsoring year-round traditional and ethnic arts events, developing the most extensive database of traditional and ethnic artists in the Pacific Northwest and becoming the most visible advocate of traditional and ethnic arts in the region.

Today, the four-day Festival attracts an audience of about 250,000 visitors and has over 7,000 volunteer performers and 1,300 volunteers. Northwest Folklife employs a year-round staff of 10.

There is no question that the Festival has stimulated interest and activity in traditional arts in the Northwest. It has become a major focal point for many traditional and ethnic performing groups and communities. The Festival now has about three times the performance venues it had in 1972. In 1994, it had to turn away more performers than it presented at the first Festival in 1972 just for lack of space!

Since the first Festival, many other smaller festivals have been conducted throughout the Northwest by civic organizations, ethnic communities, and governmental recreational agencies, often with assistance from Northwest Folklife. All of these events have focused attention on the traditional and ethnic resources of the area and, more importantly, have introduced many people to traditional arts activities.

In 1999, Northwest Folklife was selected as a Local Legacy by the Library of Congress in celebration of the Library of Congress’ 200th Anniversary. A record of the organization’s proud history is now a part of the national memory!

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