Northwest Folklife Festival


Northwest Folklife FAQ

Did You Know Northwest Folklife is the nonprofit that produces the Northwest Folklife Festival?

What is the story of Northwest Folklife?

Northwest Folklife is an independent 501(c)(3) arts organization that celebrates the multigenerational arts, cultures, and traditions of a global Pacific Northwest. Since 1972, Northwest Folklife has been deeply committed to celebrating the diversity of our Northwest communities and demystifying our differences together, under one roof. To learn more about our organization, please visit our About page.

Northwest Folklife believes that arts and culture strengthen our communities and should be accessible for all. Our year-round programming is produced in collaboration with over 130+ different Community Coordinators and powered by contributions from the community, corporations, foundations, and the public sector.

We have six main programs throughout the year: the Northwest Folklife Festival, the annual Cultural Focus, the Community Coordinator program, Our Big Neighborhood, Youth Empowerment through Arts and Heritage (Y.E.A.H.), and the Crossroads Cultural Arts Series.

How does the 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 over 5,000 participants and 500 volunteers, 200 food and craft vendors, and attracts over 250,000 attendees. We work with over 130+ 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’re glad you asked! We have several definitions of “folklife”— it’s a hard concept to pin down!  The US Library of Congress says ’folklife’ is “the everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass onto the next generation.” That provides a broad base that enables us to program the many diverse kinds of performers, practitioners, and presentations that are all around us in the Pacific Northwest.

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 year-round programs. Northwest Folklife creates opportunities throughout the year for people to celebrate, share, and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest. You can see a full list of our year-round programs here.

The annual Northwest Folklife Festival is our signature event and is held every Memorial Day Weekend at Seattle Center. The Festival is produced by a small group of staff, Board of Directors, and hundreds of volunteers. This event is made possible by the generous support of donors, Friends of Folklife, volunteers, sponsors, and partners.

What do you do for the 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, 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.

Northwest Folklife is a nonprofit organization with a mission to create opportunities for our constituents. We work year-round to organize and produce the Northwest Folklife Festival. In addition, we also work on other year-round programs including our Cultural Focus, the monthly Cultural Arts Series at Bellevue Crossroads, Our Big Neighborhood, Youth Empowerment through Arts and Heritage (Y.E.A.H.), and consistent work with our Community Coordinators and collaborative organizational partners.  We are constantly working to create new and better ways to produce our current events while looking forward to future program opportunities for our organization.

Learn more about our year-round programs.

Why should I come to the Northwest Folklife Festival?

Come to the Festival to discover a wide variety of music, dance, arts, food, traditions, and heritage that thrive in our region. At the Festival you are likely to hear new kinds of music and discover a 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 one of the largest of its kind–a community-powered, 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 over 20 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.

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.

What is your partnership with Seattle Center?

For over 48 years, Northwest Folklife has appreciated the long relationship with Seattle Center. In 2019, we renewed a five-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 2023. 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 without financial barrier.

Why don’t you charge an entry fee? How do you raise money for the Northwest Folklife Festival?

It is the mission of Northwest Folklife to create opportunities for ALL to experience and celebrate the thriving traditions of folk arts in our community. We believe strongly that arts and culture should be accessible to everyone – not just those who can afford the price of a ticket.

Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government and corporate partners in order to offset operating expenses and rising costs of producing the Festival and our year-round cultural programs. For the past several years, it was estimated that only 17% of all Festival attendees made a financial contribution. This was not enough to produce and sustain an event of this caliber. In 2017, following a call for action and tremendous community response, we saw a significant increase in Festival donations.  

In 2020, we ask Festival attendees for a modest daily donation of $20 per person or $30 per family, and we are grateful for contributions of any size. Folklife is here for you, but it is also made possible BY YOU. Show your love for Folklife today to help us keep the magic going.

What is a Friend of Folklife?

Donations of $120 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. Become a Friend of Folklife!

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 to 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 15 year-round 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!

Are there any other ways to support Northwest Folklife and the Festival?

The Festival depends on hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Over 700 volunteers contributed more 3,000 hours during the 2018 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. Learn More About Volunteering!