Announcing the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions

Celebrate at a free all-day party in Seattle on Saturday, March 3.

This Saturday, Humanities Washington, in partnership with ArtsWA/the Washington State Arts Commission, will officially launch a statewide program dedicated to folklife and the traditional arts, the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions (CWCT).

The grand opening will be marked by a day-long celebration entitled #FolkForward, which will take place from 1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 3 at the Impact Hub in Seattle (220 2nd Ave S). It is free and open to the public.

The event will feature short performances by musicians and dancers, such as percussion by Kurdish Iranian musician Ahmad Yousefbeigi; as well as demonstrations, including one of Japanese calligraphy (shodo) by Fumiko Kimura. Attendees are also invited to participate in a number of interactive displays and tables, like a zine-making station—where participants can help make small, do-it-yourself magazines, and receive a digital copy for themselves.

The CWCT has been in development since the state’s former NEA-supported folklife and traditional arts program was eliminated in 2013. Anthropologist Kristin Sullivan, founding director of the CWCT, conducted an initial survey and analysis of Washington State cultural traditions (known as a “landscape analysis”) last year. During that time she set out to survey more than 60 organizations, 30 cities, and many cultural events.

After Humanities Washington and ArtsWA established a formal partnership to support the launch of the CWCT, Sullivan held a series of community meetings to discuss ideas that emerged from the landscape analysis. Together with an advisory board, they crafted the Center’s mission: “In collaboration with communities statewide, the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions conducts research and programming to support and advance understanding of the living cultural heritage of Washington State.”

But what are cultural traditions? While the name “folk and traditional arts” or “cultural traditions” may evoke a dry, historical connotation for some, Sullivan insists that is not the case.

“I think of cultural traditions as any practices or objects/material culture that are reflective of the life or identity of a community, and that are practiced over time—often generations,” she said.

While a focus on cultural tradition means highlighting traditions that originated in Washington State, that’s not the CWCT’s exclusive focus. The CWCT also hopes to conserve “all traditions that are carried on in Washington—those of immigrant populations, both long-established and more recently arrived.”

ArtsWA executive director Karen Hanan explains that these traditions are a part of everyday life for everyone. For her, that’s what makes the work of the CWCT not just exciting, but a priority.

“Everybody has come from a culture. Everybody has things that they are carrying on and passing on, regardless of where they’re from. They’re all valuable: they’re the richness of our different lives all woven together in this wonderful tapestry that makes a state like Washington as alive with history and stories as it is,” she said. “It’s fundamental, and supporting it is critical.”

The CWCT does not have a physical location. Sullivan describes it as a “hub of learning and programming related to cultural heritage,” featuring events not unlike #FolkForward held at venues around the state.

“I hope that we can connect people,” Sullivan says. “Cultural traditions are really engaging and inviting ways to do that — you want to try food, to see how art is made — it’s a great way to begin a conversation about deeper cultural issues. [Traditions] get people curious.”

The CWCT will launch with two major programs to assist in the conservation and support of Washington State cultural traditions.

The Washington State Heritage Arts Apprenticeship Program will provide funding to master tradition bearers to support the training of an apprentice. It hopes to not just support the passing-on of traditions, but may serve as vocational and technical learning.

The other program is an ongoing Cultural Traditions Survey, an ethnographic project that includes “identifying, learning about, and documenting cultural traditions and tradition bearers,” according to the CWCT’s website. The project is just beginning in the Yakima Valley this year. The survey location for 2019 is currently under consideration.

These two projects highlight how the work of the CWCT goes beyond an interest in history, and gets into the ways cultural traditions bond communities today. As director, Sullivan asks: “What are the practices continuing today—How? Why?”

Recognizing that historical traditions are important, she is curious about how culture evolves. “We’re looking at how people today continue to shape their practices and what that does for their communities,” Sullivan says.

“It might sound paradoxical, but the Center will allow people to connect through our cultural differences,” said Julie Ziegler, executive director of Humanities Washington. “In an era where people are feeling intensely divided across political and cultural lines, it’s a profoundly important mission.”

The CWCT offers several ways to get involved with its work:

– Come to #FolkForward on March 3

– Contact Kristin Sullivan at to join a list of volunteers who are asked to help at regional events

– Apply to the Heritage Arts Apprenticeship program

– Suggest contacts for the Cultural Traditions Survey

– Follow the CWCT on its website ( and social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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