Keepers Of Tradition
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Triptych of the Holy Nativity of Christ by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo by Jason Dowdle.
Tin Men by retired sheet-metal workers from Local 17, Boston. Photo by Jason Dowdle.
Quilt by Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association. Photo by Jason Dowdle.
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  The aim of Mass Cultural Council's Folk Arts & Heritage Program is to identify craftspeople, performers and cultural specialists, help sustain the practice of tradition where they live, and increase appreciation of their artistry within the community and beyond.

Since 1999, Mass Cultural Council — with crucial support from the National Endowment for the Arts — has been committed to maintaining a vital traditional arts program. We conduct documentary fieldwork; provide direct support to individual artists through Artist Fellowships and Traditional Arts Apprenticeships; and create visibility for traditional artists through print and social media, exhibitions, and public programming.

In an effort to bring greater visibility to Massachusetts folk arts traditions we collaborated with the National Heritage Musuem in producing the exhibition Keepers of Tradition: Art & Folk Heritage in Massachusetts, which ran May 18, 2008-June 7, 2009.

Fieldwork Documentation, Archive, and Website
The Mass Cultural Council Folk Arts & Heritage archive, created in 1999, serves as the repository for materials generated by folklore fieldwork by staff, contracted folklorists and photographers, and interns. Field research focuses on traditional and vernacular music, dance, crafts, material culture, and traditional arts associated with annual celebrations and religious practice. The collection includes both analog and digital audio recordings, color slides, black and white negatives, digital images, and manuscript materials (field notes, transcriptions, release forms, ephemera). A unique and important record of the expressive folk culture of individuals and communities across the Commonwealth, the archive is a rich resource for creating public programming. Examples include over a decade of Lowell Folk Festival craft area programming, the Lowell Folklife Series, concerts, blog posts, and Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts, a major exhibition and monograph.

Direct Support for Traditional Artists
We have two active grant programs for traditional artists at the Mass Cultural Council: Artist Fellowships and Traditional Arts Apprenticeships. These programs offer recognition and funding to traditional artists; preserve and foster understanding of traditional art forms; and recognize cultural competence and the transmission of cultural values.

Artist Fellowships
In 2001, the Mass Cultural Council introduced the category of traditional artists to its Artist Fellowships Program, offered on a biennial basis. The review criteria for Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts include artistic excellence, authenticity, and significance of the artist's work to the traditional community. See all the Traditional Arts Fellows and Finalists on the Mass Cultural Council's online gallery.

The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program was introduced in 2002 and is offered on a biennial basis. It provides a financial incentive for master artists to identify promising apprentices to whom they will pass on their traditional skills. Review criteria include artistic excellence of master artist, traditionality of art form, skill and commitment of apprentice, feasibility of work plan, limited availability of Massachusetts master teachers in art form, and potential impact of apprenticeship on vitality of tradition.

Since 2000, we have partnered with folklorists in Connecticut and Rhode Island on the Southern New England Folk & Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. The program offers traditional artists the possibility of working with masters in neighboring states.

Folk Arts & Heritage Program interns assist with research, documentation, and support of the state's folk cultural resources. This includes:

1. Working with the Program Manager to identify traditional artists and ethnic and community organizations working with traditional communities.

2. Assisting with the ongoing management of the folk arts and heritage database and archival collection.

3. Assisting with the administration of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and Traditional Artist Fellowships.

Interns should have some familiarity with the field of folklore or the related fields of cultural anthropology, American studies, ethnomusicology and oral history. They must have familiarity with spreadsheets and databases. Basic knowledge of the history and cultural make-up of Massachusetts as well as foreign language experience (Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish preferred) is a plus.

To see if a Folk Arts & Heritage Program internship is currently available, search Mass Cultural Council job listings on

Have a Lead?
If you know about a traditional artist or folk tradition that should be documented, please contact Summer Confuorto, Program Officer.