Northwest Folklife Festival


Programming FAQ

What is presented at the Festival?

Traditionally, we program music, dance, storytelling, panels, presentations, and films at the Northwest Folklife Festival.  We also schedule workshops, where community performers can teach others about a particular subject. In addition, we try to make room for any new kinds of performance arts that people in the community can come up with. If you have an idea for a different kind of program, or you would like to share what you do in your community, please contact us!

How does Folklife define “folklife?”

The US Library of Congress says ’folklife’ is “the everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass onto the next generation.”

What are the Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct?

We believe everyone involved in our events including performers, volunteers, staff, and the audience should experience our programs free from any harassment or threats. Please see the following code of conduct to help ensure that we maintain this safe space.

Read the full Participant Guidelines here.
Read the Code of Conduct here.

How do you select a group to perform at the Folklife Festival?

Ideally, we would schedule everyone who applied.  But because we have limited space, and we have more applications than we have performance slots, we have several ways we look at an application:  What genre do they represent?  How often have they performed at the Festival in the past? What are their tech needs, and can we fulfill them? When can they perform—is their schedule so limited that we can’t fit them in when they’re able to get here? Are they from the Northwest region?  And we listen to and look at all support materials sent in with the applications to get an idea of what a performance would be.

What is a Showcase?

A Showcase is a one-to-three-hour long performance that features a specific genre or culture. For example, we have the Bulgarian Showcase, with several music and dance groups performing Bulgarian music, and we also have the Family Stories showcase, with several storytellers performing stories that are suitable for family audiences. Showcases are organized by Northwest Folklife staff or oftentimes by Community Coordinators.

What is a Community Coordinator?

Community Coordinators are dedicated volunteers and representatives of their community, who work alongside Folklife staff to schedule performances and showcases at the festival. As experts in their community, their input is an invaluable part of the planning process. More than 130+ Community Coordinators work closely with staff to program more than 65% of the Northwest Folklife Festival. For more information about Community Coordinators including a list of current participants, click here.

Why didn’t I get scheduled?

There are many reasons that applicants may not get scheduled. You may have told us you are only available on a certain day at a certain time, and we do not have a space for you then. Or your technical needs may be such that we cannot supply what you need to perform. Or you may have played for several years in a row, and we need to rotate you to give someone else in your genre a chance to perform. Most often, the reason is that there are so many applications for the genre you represent that we have to limit the number of those performances. For example, we usually have more than 200 applications for singer/songwriters, but we can only program a small percentage of that particular genre. We try to rotate applicants in order to be fair to everyone.

Why can’t I play on a certain stage?

We schedule performers for venues or stages that have the equipment they need. For example, not all stages have drum kits or amplifiers. Only some stages are large enough for dance groups. If you are a singer/songwriter, we want to schedule you in a venue where people can hear your lyrics. By the same token, we would most likely schedule a brass band on an outdoor stage because of their volume.

Some of the performances you program don’t seem very “folk-ish.”  Why is that?

One of the truly wonderful things about the Northwest Folklife Festival is that we are a community arts festival.  We program the kinds of art forms that community members are participating in, and we try to respond positively to all kinds of interesting applications. So the end result is that you can see performances that you might call “folk,” and you can also see new, emerging art forms like 8-bit music.

Why are performers not paid to perform at the Northwest Folklife Festival?

The Northwest Folklife Festival began in 1972 with a simple goal of creating a platform to share talents and traditions and to pass them on to those who attended. The first performers willingly donated their performances. The Festival grew immensely from that first year and eventually required a professional staff to organize the event and carry it out. But that simple original tenet has carried forward to today: the Festival is principally a forum for people to willingly share cultures and traditions and to pass them to others. We are humbled by the many thousands of people, groups, and organizations who seek performance or workshop space each year; we know that there are many who willingly do so and it is our privilege to assist in their search for self-expression.

Why are buskers allowed at the Festival?

The short answer is that Seattle Center is a public park, and buskers can perform at any public park.  The long answer is that we value the energy that our Street Performers bring to the Festival. We encourage buskers to donate part of their donations back to the Festival and many do. To learn more about street performing, please click here.

How can I get my community involved with the Festival?

Contact our Programming Department! We’d love to hear from you, and we’re always open to incorporating new communities into the Festival.

Can I appeal if I am not selected?

There is no “appeal process” as such. We program all of the available slots, so the only way you will be assigned a slot if you are waitlisted is if someone else drops out. Please let us know if you are interested in being assigned a slot even during the Festival itself—sometimes slots unexpectedly open up.  You can sign up for the waitlist at Performer Registration.

Can I apply if I am a visual artist?

Folklife has limited space for exhibiting two-dimensional art and sculptures. Usually, that space is associated with the annual Cultural Focus or in partnership with The Ver(a) Gallery.  If you are interested in participating in Folklife as a visual artist, please give us a call and we can determine if there might be a space for you.

I don’t know how to fill out an online application, but I am a great musician. Can you offer any help?

Sure! We would be happy to send you a paper application. Additionally, if you call the Programming Department by the application deadline, we can fill out the application with you over the phone. But you will still need to send in a sample of your performance and fill out a tech sheet. Feel free to call us at (206) 684-4189.

Can I apply to schedule a showcase?

If you represent a particular genre or community, and you can bring several other groups or performers together to participate in a showcase, we’d be interested in talking with you!  Please give us a call or email us.

If I apply and am not selected, does that affect my ability to be selected in future years?

No! We encourage you to apply again, as the circumstances may differ each year.

How many groups apply each year?

We receive over 1,200 applications, and there are approximately 850 performance time slots.

How many venues?

20+ (This varies from year to year)

Schedule slots?

850 (This varies from year to year.)

Community-coordinated shows? 

100+. If you have other questions, please refer to our printed or online Festival schedule for more details!

If I miss the deadline, can I still apply?

Yes, you can!  BUT—we give preference to those applications that make it in by the deadline.

Why isn’t there more ___________________?

If you don’t see enough of your favorite kind of performer at Folklife, let us know!

What do you mean by Cultural Focus?

For over a decade we have presented what we call the Cultural Focus that features a Pacific Northwest community through special performances, panels, workshops, exhibitions, demonstrations, and activities. It’s a way for us to connect more in-depth with the people that we serve and empower their artistic expressions and cultural traditions. There is a new Cultural Focus each year – for a complete list of past Cultural Focus themes, visit here.

Have a great idea for a Cultural Focus in the future? Email us!