The Community Arts Engagement Mentorship Project (CAEMP) is a new project for Northwest Folklife and a potential model for future year-round programming for the organization. Northwest Folklife hosts the annual Folklife Festival during Memorial Day weekend. Over 250,000 attendees participate in the Festival each year. Festival attendees are not only passive observers; many are also participants in the presentation and performance of traditional arts. In order to continue to grow participation in the Festival, it is essential that Northwest Folklife actively cultivate communities who are new to the region and have not yet participated. Through the Community Arts Engagement Mentorship Project, Northwest Folklife supports the development, production, and documentation of two community showcases of traditional and emerging Somali arts. This project builds a pathway for the long-term engagement of the Somali community in regional arts programming.
This project, which took place over the summer of 2012, was the first time Northwest Folklife has offered resources directly to a community to specifically support the development and production of community arts showcases in an effort to build arts participation. The Somali community’s traditional arts are an integral part of their culture; however the community has lacked the resources to focus on the performance and production of their traditional and emerging arts. This project allowed Folklife to assist the community in creating an opportunity to let their cultural traditions flourish in their new home, while building a path-way for future engagement through the Northwest Folklife Festival in 2013.
In partnership with Jack Straw, KBCS 91.3FM, and local videographer Doug Plummer, this project also created opportunities for the future engagement of additional communities. Jack Straw recorded an audio documentary of the project for broadcast on KBCS and Doug Plummer recorded a video documentary for inclusion in Folklife’s Northwest Stories series (see above). This is another innovative component to the project. Broadcasting these pieces gave the Somali community an opportunity to solidify a sense of identity in their new community while also exposing itself to other Somali communities in the region.
A Backwards Glance: The Somali Cultural Showcase — Behind the scenes documentary by Doug Plummer
Northwest Folklife’s mission is to create opportunities for all to celebrate, share, and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest. The Community Arts Engagement Mentorship Project cultivated a new audience in the Somali community by providing an opportunity for participation in their own cultural traditions. In assisting this community with the development of their own arts programs, Folklife simultaneously cultivated a new audience for the annual Folklife Festival.
King County is home to the third largest Somali population in the United States. The majority of the 30,000 Somalis living in King County arrived as refugees. As the Somali community continues to make a new home in the Pacific Northwest, Folklife is committed to working to ensure this population’s traditional arts and culture have a voice and are preserved and shared with the entire region. The Somali community needs support in building arts participation in their community.
Folklife hopes to learn what is necessary to engage new ethnic communities in the broader cultural and artistic community. Additionally, Folklife hopes to gauge the feasibility of reusing this model as a regular year-round program.