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NEA National Heritage Fellowship Awardees: Resources at the American Folklife Center

This guide provides access to resources on the National Heritage Fellowship -- a program to celebrate lifetime achievement in the traditional arts administered by the National Endowment for the Arts -- in the collections of the American Folklife Center.


Image of 2018 National Heritage Fellows at the Library of Congress
Stephen Winick, photographer. 2018 National Heritage Fellowship Recipients at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. September 26, 2018. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

American Folklife Center archival collections contain examples of the knowledge and expertise of many National Heritage Fellowship winners. These Heritage Fellowships, first awarded in 1982 by the National Endowment for the Arts, are the nation's highest honor for folk and traditional arts. Each year people who contribute to our knowledge of traditional arts by exemplifying excellence in their chosen areas and often by their lifetime achievements, are awarded these fellowships here in Washington DC. Information on each of them is on the Endowment website.

Bess Lomax Hawes, sitting, smiles at her brother Alan Lomax
Ralph Rinzler, photographer. Bess Lomax Hawes and Alan Lomax. New York City, 1975. Alan Lomax Collection. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

Documentation of the Heritage fellows that is here often predates various individuals' awards, though the Center has also joined in the celebration of such achievements by featuring awardees in performances and other events. Since the AFC archive is principally audiovisual, most of the Heritage Fellowship winners in the Center’s collection are represented by recordings and are more apt to be musicians, storytellers, and interviewees rather than persons honored particularly for their expertise in traditional crafts not typically featured in performance settings. The contributions of the latter can often be traced elsewhere in the Library’s holdings, and are also sometimes identified in the collections that came to the Center from organizations that sponsor celebrations of traditional culture.

In keeping with Bess Lomax Hawes' major roles at the Folk and Traditional Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts and the creation of the Heritage Awards, the Endowment since 2000 has also given a Bess Lomax Hawes Award to "keepers of tradition," persons with particular "achievements in fostering excellence, ensuring vitality, and promoting public appreciation of the folk and traditional arts." Many of these awardees are represented in the Folklife Center collections in the form of interviews they have conducted, with collections they have contributed, and by roles they have played in introducing traditional artists to a wider audience.

Images of National Heritage Fellowship Recipients