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Northwest Folklife | Northwest Folklife Festival | Programming


NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE FAQ

WHAT IS THE STORY OF NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE?

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

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 150+ 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.

Most notable of our events is the annual Northwest Folklife Festival, a community-powered celebration of the music, arts, and heritage of the Pacific Northwest. With over 6,000 performers on 20+ stages, 200 food/craft/import vendors, and 500 volunteers, the Northwest Folklife Festival remains one of the largest access-for-all festivals in the nation since 1972. In 2020, the Northwest Folklife Festival pivoted to an online experience, launching From Home to Home: Northwest Folklife Festival.

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 6,000 participants and 500 volunteers, 200 food and craft vendors, and attracts over 250,000 attendees.

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, over 150 Community Coordinators, and hundreds of volunteers. This event is made possible by the generous support of donors, Friends of Folklife, volunteers, sponsors, and partners.

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 festival goers 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 IS YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH SEATTLE CENTER?

For over 50 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 2021, we ask festival attendees for a modest daily donation of $20 per person, 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 12 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. 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!


NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE FESTIVAL FAQ

WHEN DOES THE FESTIVAL BEGIN AND END EACH DAY?

Virtual Festival Hours:

Friday: 6PM - 9PM

Saturday and Sunday: 11AM - 9PM

Monday: 3PM - 6PM

WHY DON’T YOU CHARGE AN ENTRY FEE? HOW DO YOU RAISE MONEY FOR THE FESTIVAL?

We are committed to access for all regardless of background or income and therefore continue to operate without tickets. 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 programs and events. It’s not easy to sustain, and we need your support. Everyone is a bearer of folk and participants in folklife, and we are committed to make certain everyone is able to come and celebrate with us.

THE FESTIVAL IS COMMUNITY-POWERED – WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

The Northwest Folklife Festival is created for and by the people. Northwest Folklife collaborates with communities to showcase culturally significant arts and culture experiences and is committed to a model of community-curation and co-creation. We have developed relationships with over 150 unique ethnic and cultural communities through which we have established the Community Coordinator program which partners individuals, who are active in and are able to authentically represent their communities, with Northwest Folklife program staff to build programming and events that are responsive and relevant to those communities. Being community-powered means that we rely on contributions – community voice and input, monetary gifts, in-kind donations, and volunteerism – from people and groups that come to the Northwest Folklife Festival. Speaking of participants, performers, artists, and workshop leaders all volunteer their time. The largest part of expenses are in the cost of production – stages, sound systems, electricity, tents, etc. – and the labor to operate this enormous event. You can help ensure that festival remains accessible to all AND remains an amazing representation of our communities’ arts, culture, heritage and traditions for future generations.

We suggest a donation of $20 per person, but gladly accept donations of any amount! You can contribute cash gifts at any gate or Information & Donation station. To find out more or donate online, please visit our Friends of Folklife page.

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. Our relationships with over 150+ Community Coordinators help connect our programmers with artists and performers and help us keep up to date with what is going on around the Pacific Northwest. All performers donate their time and energy to the festival.

WHY DOESN’T THE FESTIVAL HAVE ANY HEADLINERS?

The Northwest Folklife Festival is a celebration of how people evolve and 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 Pacific 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.

HOW IS THE CULTURAL FOCUS CHOSEN?

Our Cultural Focus program is chosen in a variety of ways. In keeping with our mission to ‘share, celebrate, and participate in the evolving traditions of the Pacific Northwest’, it’s important for Folklife to represent communities present here in the Northwest, both existing and emerging.

As our Cultural Focus is a year-round program, this allows staff to engage deeper with communities beyond the Folklife Festival. Whether it’s with a new community not yet represented at the festival, or a community that has been showcasing at the festival for many years but has a particular anniversary or event happening that year, ideas are both curated and submitted.

Have an idea for the next Cultural Focus? Feel free to email us.

WHAT IS THERE TO SEE, DO, AND PARTICIPATE IN DURING THE FESTIVAL?

From music and dance performances to a virtual marketplace to family hands-on activities, the Northwest Folklife Festival has something to offer to everyone.

WAIT, SO THERE IS NO ADMISSION CHARGE? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

The Northwest Folklife Festival remains accessible to all because of generous contributions – monetary gifts, in-kind donations and volunteerism – from YOU! In order to sustain the values and mission of OUR Festival for future generations, we gladly accept donations of any amount. We suggest a donation of $20 per person – that’s like getting hundreds of performances for the price of one show at a local venue! 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.

HOW CAN I PERFORM? BE A MERCHANT? SELL CRAFTS?

All festival performers and merchants (food, crafts, etc.) must apply to be a part of the festival. Applications are available in the fall. To receive an application for the next festival, check online at nwfolklife.org. Performer applications launch yearly on September 15 and close December 1.


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 and culture that people in the community choose to share. 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!

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 technical needs, and can we fulfill them? Are they from the Pacific Northwest region? We listen to and look at all support materials sent in with the applications to get an idea of what a performance would be. We also work closely with Community Coordinators to evaluate applications. 

WHAT IS A SHOWCASE?

A showcase is a longer performance that features a specific genre or culture and features multiple artists. For example, in the past we've had 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 Community Coordinators or oftentimes by staff.

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 throughout all of Northwest Folklife's programs. As experts in their community, their input is an invaluable part of the planning process. More than 150 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 your technical needs may be such that we cannot supply what you need to perform in this new virtual format. Or you may have played for several years in a row, and we need to rotate the performance to give another applicant in that genre a chance to perform. Most often, the reason is that there are so many applications for the genre your application represents 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 provide opportunities to new applicants.

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. We believe everyone is a bearer of folk.

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.

HOW CAN I GET MY COMMUNITY INVOLVED WITH THE FESTIVAL?

Contact our Programming Department at programming@nwfolklife.org. 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. 

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 differ each year.

HOW MANY GROUPS APPLY EACH YEAR?

We receive over 1,200 applications, and there are approximately 850 performance time slots at the in-person festival.

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, priority is given to those applications that submit 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!