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What is Community Power?

The Northwest Folklife Festival is a phenomenon. Do you think it could get off the ground if we tried to start it today? Here’s the pitch: Let’s put on a participatory arts and culture Festival featuring the folklife (a word actually missing from most dictionaries) and living traditions of all the Northwest communities we can possibly reach out to, newcomer and native alike. Let’s work one-on-one with hundreds of communities and artists to share and celebrate their arts and cultural traditions the way they want to have them presented. If a community is not quite ready, let’s find a small step they can take to participate in a meaningful way, and get them connected to the greater community. Then, with these 5,000 or so musicians, dancers and artists, let’s put on a four-day Festival and not charge admission! We want everyone to have access. Let’s make it a massive pay-what-you-can art event. Do you think the Northwest Folklife Festival idea could fly if we started it today?

The Northwest Folklife Festival thrives and continues to evolve with the people of the Pacific Northwest because it is community-powered, and has been for 45 years. Here’s how:

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The heart of our community power is the thousands of individuals who contribute their talent and time to participate in Northwest Folklife programming. For the Folklife Festival, that starts with a call for artist applications every fall. Last year, Northwest Folklife implemented a call for Cultural Focus as well. Communities’ and individuals’ responses to these calls are the basis for programmatic themes going forward.  Northwest Folklife programming staff sort proposals by genre and discipline, looking to represent the arts, cultures and traditions of all who apply. A committee of arts practitioners additionally guides Cultural Focus programming. (Learn more about Northwest Folklife’s Cultural Focus program and the communities we’ve worked with through the years.)

Northwest Folklife’s community power is all about self–expression. Performers, participants, patrons: we all believe that participation in the arts is as important as observing them. Northwest Folklife creates opportunities, and over 1,000 musicians, dancers and artists answer our call for participation. The notion of celebrating, sharing, and participating in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest captures the imagination of folks who want to be part of a movement; a community undertaking, in which we envision strong communities through arts and culture. Volunteers help paint this canvas by fulfilling important jobs. And, as an organization, Northwest Folklife makes it so, behind the scenes, nurturing relationships and exploring possibilities all year.

Community Power comes in the form of our public-private partnership with the City of Seattle. Northwest Folklife, an independent 501(c)-3 nonprofit organization, partners with Seattle Center, a department of the City of Seattle, to produce the annual Folklife Festival and the Seattle Children’s Festival. Northwest Folklife is a member of the Festal community of ethnic festivals. The City of Seattle’s in-kind investment in Northwest Folklife’s work supports around 45% of direct expenses, powering Northwest Folklife and our capacity to strengthen communities through arts and culture. Programs are further supported by Friends of Folklife and other donors, funders, sponsors, vendors, and craft and food merchants.

Community Power is everything. Northwest Folklife stands for the belief that the arts invigorate and revitalize interpersonal connections and sense of community. When people share aspects of their culture, opportunities are created to dissolve misunderstandings, break down stereotypes, and increase respect for one another. We invite YOU to participate in dance, workshops, jams, and the choral courtyard when you attend the Folklife Festival. Come and meet your neighbor!

Community Power is about everyone joining together to create strong communities through arts and culture. Join us. Get involved. Or, just come on down, drop in this Memorial Day weekend: May 27-May 30 to explore the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest at the Northwest Folklife Festival.

Community Powered!

Posted in Ask Folklife a Question, Community Powered!.