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50 Years of Northwest Folklife

2021 Cultural Focus 50 Years of Northwest Folklife: A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Northwest Folklife’s 2021 Cultural Focus 50 Years of Northwest Folklife: A Look Back, A Look Ahead celebrates the milestone anniversary of 50 years of stories, songs, and traditions of the Pacific Northwest region with a year-long, community celebration. As we look towards a half-century mark, we celebrate the ways in which folklife is a part of each of our lives - past, present, and future. These stories are the powerful expressions of culture, that strengthen us as a community by connecting us to our roots, grounding us firmly in the present, and supplying us with a sense of identity and purpose for a future, together.

Our Story

Since 1971, Northwest Folklife’s work has centered on preserving cultural arts, bridging connections to heritage and identity, and cultivating the ever-evolving traditions of the Pacific Northwest. Through its first program, the Northwest Folklife Festival, the organization brought a celebration of diversity and tradition to the heart of Seattle with the goal to celebrate all forms of cultural expression practiced in the region. The Northwest Folklife Festival was founded in 1971 by the Seattle Folklore Society, the National Park Service, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and the City of Seattle, as part of the Park Service's urban outreach program to encourage the people of the Pacific Northwest region to publicly present traditional, ethnic and folk arts.

The first festival was first held in 1972 and has since grown to become the largest festival of its kind in North America. Since its inception, Northwest Folklife expanded to begin developing year-round programming beginning in 1980. In 1999, Northwest Folklife was selected as a Local Legacy by the Library of Congress in celebration of the Library of Congress’ 200th Anniversary.

In the last half-century, Northwest Folklife has grown to collaborate with cultural organizations and culture bearers, to ensure communities have agency and voice in the representation of their culture through the Community Coordinator program.

More than 150+ Community Coordinators—including prominent artists, educators, culture bearers, and leaders throughout the region—work closely with Northwest Folklife to co-create and co-curate programs including the Northwest Folklife Festival, the annual Cultural Focus, the Youth Engagement through Arts and Heritage Programs (Y.E.A.H), and the Our Big Neighborhood youth and family program. Throughout the year, Community Coordinators work in partnership to co-curate programs that are by the people, for the people that present the diversity of cultures and traditions within the region.

Commemorative Logo

In honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary, Northwest Folklife is excited to share its commemorative logo, inspired by the special moments and the communities that make up its programs.

This celebratory 50th logo was designed to feature the core of our organization and one that encompasses who we are—and that is YOU, our community. We’re excited to share that this special logo focuses on the people and the communities who make Northwest Folklife and all of our programs what they are today.

Inspired by photographs taken at programs such as the Northwest Folklife Festival and Our Big Neighborhood events, this logo highlights the true root of Northwest Folklife, which is our community.

Learn more about our 50th logo

Cultural Focus Components

Cultural Focus: 50 Years of Folklife will have three main components:


Washington Old Time Fiddlers performing at the Plaza of the States, NW Folklife, 1972.

Washington Old Time Fiddlers performing at the Plaza of the States, NW Folklife, 1972.

A Look to our Past

50 Years of Folklife will look back to its roots to celebrate, recognize, and honor the cultural endowment of those legacies that have served as the foundation for the organization. This program includes in-depth audio interviews and podcasts with culture bearers of the region's communities including co-founder of Northwest Folklife Vivian Williams, a display of archived memorabilia such as festival posters and buttons, and more.

  • Photo by Christopher Nelson

    Photo by Christopher Nelson

  • Photo by Tori Dickson

    Photo by Tori Dickson

  • Radost Folk Ensemble | Photo by Christopher Nelson

    Radost Folk Ensemble | Photo by Christopher Nelson

  • Garfield HS Jazz Band | Photo by Christopher Nelson

    Garfield HS Jazz Band | Photo by Christopher Nelson

  • Photo by Christopher Nelson

    Photo by Christopher Nelson

A Look at Our Present

Northwest Folklife will bring the community together through conversations and interactive town hall discussions for conversations on current-day arts and culture, the environment, heritage and identity, social equity, and more.

  • Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration | Photo by Christopher Nelson

    Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration | Photo by Christopher Nelson

  • Photo by Erinn Hale

    Photo by Erinn Hale

  • Próxima Generación | Photo by Christopher Nelson

    Próxima Generación | Photo by Christopher Nelson

  • Próxima Generación | Photo by Christopher Nelson

    Próxima Generación | Photo by Christopher Nelson

  • The Hydrant | Photo by April Jingco

    The Hydrant | Photo by April Jingco

  • Photo by Erinn Hale

    Photo by Erinn Hale

A Look at Our Future

Northwest Folklife will look toward the future and spotlight youth partners and culture bearers who will forge this work into the next 50 years.

Share Your Folklife Memories

What are your favorite stories and memories from the Northwest Folklife Festival? Share your memories with us through social media using the hashtag #Folklife50. We will gather these community testimonies and share these stories throughout 2021 and its programs. Stay tuned!

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