Northwest Folklife FAQ

What is the story of Northwest Folklife?
Every year since 1972, the Northwest Folklife Festival has brought a celebration of diversity and tradition to the heart of Seattle. The Festival is our signature event; it creates opportunities for more than 6000 performers and over 100 community groups to celebrate, share, and sustain their art forms with thousands of festival participants. More recently, Northwest Folklife has evolved into on a year-round organization, extending our reach with more programs that strengthen communities through arts and culture. Among year-round projects, we produce an annual CD compilation of performance highlights from the Festival, partner with other arts and media organizations to present a variety of live music and dances, and work with Northwest communities to help them find ways to best preserve their cultural traditions.


How does celebration of folk arts help the community?
We believe that celebrating arts and culture is a great way for people to share their cultural heritage with the public. Cultural exchange is an opportunity to dissolve misunderstandings, break down stereotypes and increase respect for one another. It also helps revitalize people and communities. And because culture is always evolving, we facilitate a platform to celebrate the new arts and traditions that communities want to share.


How many people does Northwest Folklife reach?
We collaborate with all of the diverse communities of the Pacific Northwest–including Washington, Oregon, Western Montana, Idaho, Alaska, British Columbia, and Alberta–to inspire programs and public presentations of all forms of cultural expression practiced in the Northwest. The annual festival includes 6,000 participants and 800 volunteers and attracts an average crowd of 235,000 people. We work with 80 community coordinators through the region to present more than 190 hours of workshops and 500 hours of live performances.


What do you really mean by “folklife”?
We think of folklife as “what people do at home to entertain themselves.” Folklife is shaped and evolves over generations. We believe that everyone is a bearer of folk arts.  It is as important to participate in the arts as it is to observe them.


What is the difference between Northwest Folklife and the Northwest Folklife Festival?
Northwest Folklife is a year-round arts and culture organization that produces the Northwest Folklife Festival, among other activities. Northwest Folklife creates opportunities throughout the year for people to celebrate, share, and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest. The annual Northwest Folklife Festival is our signature event, and is held every Memorial Day Weekend in Seattle Center. The Festival is produced by of small group of staff, Board of Directors, and hundreds of volunteers. It is is a self-sustaining event made possible through generous support, both monetary and in-kind donations.


What do you do for rest of the year after the Festival ends?
The Folklife spirit doesn’t end at the Festival. Our staff and board members work year-round to provide more opportunities to share, celebrate, and sustain our folk, ethnic, and traditional arts. We carry on our Cultural Focus, or Festival theme, throughout the year, producing film series, dances, and other relevant events to explore a particular idea or work with a community for a longer period of time.

Also, Folklife supporters stepped up to raise critical funds with Nights for Folklife benefit parties held over a series of evenings from fall through spring. Many have had a great time dancing, singing, listening to music and remembering what brings us back to Seattle Center every year on the Memorial Day weekend. We were delighted by the outpouring of support from party hosts and guests and the diversity of events. What a wonderful way to generate enthusiasm for the next Festival!


Why should I come to the Northwest Folklife Festival?
Come to the Festival to discover the wide variety of music, dance, and folk arts that thrive in our region. At the Festival you are likely to hear new kinds of music, and discover different variety of food, try out a new type of dance, and experience fresh perspectives on the cultures in this area. Join festivalgoers from all over the world! The Northwest Folklife Festival is the largest of its kind–a free, multi-day event, providing multiple opportunities to celebrate all forms of cultural expression.


What can I expect at the Northwest Folklife Festival this year?
Expect to enjoy the fun atmosphere of the diversity of Northwest! The Festival schedule blends traditional cultural expression with emerging art forms like hip hop and chiptunes. You can wander the pathways of Seattle Center and take in the sights and sounds, and step into one of our 24 programmed venues to see some of the region’s most accomplished professional and amateur musicians. Sit back and relax in a beer garden, or work up an appetite dancing in one of the participatory dance venues. For all tastes and in all weather, there’s something for everyone.


What is there to see, do, and participate in during the Festival?

  • Participatory Dance: whether you are a regular dancer or new to the activity, there are dozens of opportunities for you to move your feet at the Festival! Swing by Warren’s Roadhouse in the Fisher Pavilion for group dancing for four days of the festival. There are also lots of partner dances in the Armory, such as waltz, Cajun, and swing dance, along with international dances such as Swedish and Balkan. Or check out the workshops in the Northwest Rooms. Participatory dance opportunities and workshops range from salsa to contra, English country to Latin swing.
  • Cultural Focus: each year present a “theme” that allows us to expand programming in a particular area or with a community. Previously, we’ve stages a Cultural Focus on Urban Indians, Maritime Communities and Bulgaria. For 2013, labor history and folklore in our Washington Works program will be the Cultural Focus. This program often includes multimedia, films, demonstrations, talks, exhibits and more.
  • Family & Hands-On Activities: called the Discovery Zone. It’s a family activities are programmed all day throughout the festival, and include arts & crafts, storytelling, and music designed especially for young ones. Check out the Kindiependent showcase for indie rock that parents will love too!
  • Food: next to music and arts, what’s more culturally significant than food? Taste the world by visiting food stalls that offer delicacies from Africa, South America, the American South, and all points in between! You could easily fill your day just taking in the smells and sights, topping it off with classic Festival fare such as elephant ears and funnel cakes.
  • Crafts: be sure to bring your shopping list—you can spend many hours wandering dozens of booths that have merchandise made by the talented hands of your Northwest neighbors as well as booths with imported crafts from around the world. You can find locally made soaps, jewelry, clothing, and art, as well as imports of dishware, instruments, and hard-to-find food items.
  • Beer Gardens: take a load off, find a quiet or lively spot, and watch the Festival go by with a nice cold brew. We have a variety of beer and ciders on tap in our gardens.
  • Living Green Courtyard: learn about how local businesses and organizations are making strides to live sustainably with the world around us. Get tips and info from environmental nonprofits, or see the latest innovations in clothing and crafts made from recycled materials.


How do you bring all the Festival performers together?
We create and explore opportunities to showcase regional artists, traditional dance, music, storytelling and exhibits through partnerships with diverse cultural and ethnic communities in the region. We developed great relationships with over 80 “community coordinators” who help connect our programmers with bands and performers and help us keep up to date with what is going on around the Northwest. All the performers on our stages donate their time and energy to the Festival. Incredibly, most of the talented folks you see are amateurs! While some are professionals, most do not make their living in the arts but are accomplished musicians who work as teachers, bandleaders, and community organizers. For more information about programming visit Programming FAQ.


Why doesn’t the Festival have any headliners?
The Northwest Folklife Festival is a celebration of how people keep their traditions alive in the region. We want to share the dance, music, stories, art, and food of diverse communities that thrive in the Northwest. Sometimes this means bigger names acts take the stage, but the most important thing is to present a wide variety of musical styles and artistic expression, not to have name recognition to draw crowds or sponsorship dollars. All of the Festival’s artists donate their performances in order to share their arts and traditions. We think they’re all headliners.


How many attendees do you expect?
This year we are expecting approximately 250,000 attendees over a four day period during the Memorial Day weekend. The attendance is sometimes dependent on the weather, although there are also many options available in our many inside venues. Rain or shine, we’ll be celebrating all over the Seattle Center!


Is it true that the Festival is really crowded?
The Festival grounds can get busy at times, and it’s always a good idea to plan ahead by checking the schedule and arriving early at your preferred location or stage. One helpful tip is to step inside venues that are indoors—believe it or not, most of the indoor venues will almost always have a place for you to sit down!


What is your partnership with Seattle Center?
For over 40 years, Northwest Folklife has appreciated long relationship with Seattle Center. This year, we’ve renewed a six-year agreement between Seattle Center and Northwest Folklife. The agreement ensures both the presentation of the iconic Northwest Folklife Festival in the center of the city and Seattle Center as the home base for the organization through 2018. The combination of City support, voluntary donations from festival attendees, other donations and sponsorships obtained by Northwest Folklife, the work of hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of performers performing for free allow the annual Northwest Folklife Festival to be presented to the public free of charge.


Why don’t you charge an entry fee? How do you raise money for the Festival?
It is the mission of Northwest Folklife to create the incredible opportunity of experiencing the thriving traditions of folk arts available to everyone! Everybody is a bearer of and participant in folklife, and we are committed to make certain everyone is able to come and celebrate with us. Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government, and corporate partners in order to meet operating expenses, produce the annual Festival, and maintain year-round educational programs and events. It’s not easy to sustain, and we’d love your support!


Wait, so the Festival is FREE? How is this possible?
Yes, the Northwest Folklife Festival is free to the public! However, in order to keep the Festival free for future generations we accept donations of any amount; when asked, we suggest a donation of $10 per person per day (or $20 for family/groups). Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government, and corporate partners in order to meet operating expenses, produce the annual Festival, and maintain year-round educational programs and events. You, too, can become a Friend of Folklife and receive special benefits.  For more information and to donate please visit our website.


What is a Friend of Folklife?
Donations of $50 or more automatically qualify you for Friend of Folklife benefits. As a Friend of Folklife, you will receive a number of excellent benefits to help you enjoy the Northwest Folklife Festival and to keep you connected to Folklife all year long. Benefits include getting a Festival guide delivered to your doorstep, exclusive invitations to parties, a pass to our backstage hospitality area, a signed limited-edition Festival poster, and more. To become a Friend of Folklife please visit our website.


If I donate to Folklife at the Festival, where does my money go?
As you can imagine, producing our Festival is expensive! Tax-deductible donations help pay for festival production costs, provide general operating funds to help keep the lights on and the copy machines running. They also help pay salaries for our ten full-times staff members. Contributions also help us continue to showcase talented musicians, provide fun activities for children, offer community dance venues, and so much more. Make a donation online here.


Are there any other ways to support Northwest Folklife and the Festival?
The Festival depends on hundreds of dedicated volunteers.  Over 800 volunteers contributed more than 4,000 hours during the 2013 Festival! It’s a fun, great way to meet new people and it gives you an opportunity to become part of what makes the Northwest Folklife Festival so special. To learn more about volunteering please visit our website.