National Heritage Fellowship

The National Heritage Fellowship is a lifetime honor presented to master folk and traditional artists by the National Endowment for the Arts. Similar to Japan's Living National Treasure award,[1] the Fellowship is the United States government's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.[2][3] It is a one-time only award and fellows must be living citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Each year, fellowships are presented to between nine and fifteen artists or groups at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

National Heritage Fellowship
Awarded forLifetime achievement in folk or traditional arts
LocationWashington, D.C.
CountryUnited States
Presented byNational Endowment for the Arts
First awarded1982
Last awardedpresent
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The Fellows are nominated by individual citizens, with an average of over 200 nominations per year. From that pool of candidates, recommendations are made by a rotating panel of specialists, including one layperson, as well as folklorists and others with a variety of forms of cultural expertise. The recommendations are then reviewed by the National Council on the Arts, with the final decisions made by the chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts.[4] As of 2022, 467 artists in a wide variety of fields have received Fellowships.[5]


The program was officially founded in 1982 by Bess Lomax Hawes, the first director of the Folk and Traditional Arts Program at the NEA,[6] following a five-year period of development.[4] In 1982, the monetary award associated with the Fellowship was $5,000;[1] in 1993, it was increased to $10,000 and since 2009, the award amount is $25,000, which is considered "enough to make a difference, but not enough to go to anyone's head".[4] Each recipient receives a certificate of honor, the monetary award, and a congratulatory letter from the President of the United States.

The annual recognition events are held in the Fall and consist of an awards ceremony, a banquet, and a concert that is open to the public. Over the years, the awards ceremony has been held at different locations in the US capitol city, including the NEA headquarters, Ford's Theatre, George Washington University,[1] the Library of Congress,[7] and for the first time at the White House in 1995.[8] Since 2000, the banquet has been held in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.[4] The concert features musical performances, craft demonstrations, and interviews with the honorees.[7] Masters of ceremonies at the concerts have included folksinger Pete Seeger, actress Ruby Dee, author Studs Terkel, journalist Charles Kuralt, and since 1997 Nick Spitzer, the host of public radio program American Routes.[4] Beginning in 2010, the Fellowship concerts have been streamed live on the NEA website and archived on YouTube.

In 2000, the NEA instituted the Bess Lomax Hawes Award in conjunction with the Fellowships, "given to an individual for achievements in fostering excellence, ensuring vitality, and promoting public appreciation of the folk and traditional arts".[7] The Hawes Award has been given annually since 2000 to recognize "artists whose contributions, primarily through teaching, advocacy, and organizing and preserving important repertoires, have greatly benefited their artistic tradition. It also recognizes individuals, such as producers and activists, who have comprehensively increased opportunities for and public visibility of traditional artists."[4]


  • A companion volume titled American Folk Masters: The National Heritage Fellows was published in 1992 to accompany a traveling exhibition (1991–1994) called "America's Living Folk Traditions" that featured the artistry of 36 Fellowship recipients.[1][9]
  • A two-volume biographical dictionary of the award winners from the first 20 years was published in 2001, titled Masters of Traditional Arts.[10]
  • A young readers book featuring five of the National Heritage Fellows entitled Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts was published in 2006.[11]


Awardees have included Native American basket weavers, African American blues musicians, traditional fiddlers, Mexican American accordionists, and all manner of traditional artisans and performers of numerous ethnic backgrounds.

1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990

1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000

2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010

2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020

2021 | 2022

National Heritage Fellowship winners are:

















































  1. ^ a b c d Siporin, Steve (1992). "Introduction". American Folk Masters: The National Heritage Fellows. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in association with The Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico. pp. 14–21. ISBN 0810919176. OCLC 24699109.
  2. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellowship Recipients". US Fed News Service. Washington, DC. June 6, 2013. Archived from the original on December 14, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  3. ^ Lane, Sarah (September 24, 2015). "Daniel Sheehy Named National Heritage Fellow". The Washington Post. Washington, DC. p. Metro section, T23. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "National Heritage Fellowships 30th Anniversary" (PDF). National Endowment for the Arts. 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2022 NEA National Heritage Fellows". National Endowment for the Arts. June 28, 2022. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  6. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (December 2, 2009). "Bess Lomax Hawes, 88; folklorist, performer, NEA official". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c "NEA National Heritage Fellows Fact Sheet" (PDF). National Endowment for the Arts. September 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  8. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (September 28, 1995). "First Lady Defends NEA: Art Fellowships Presented at the White House". The Washington Post. p. Style section, C03.
  9. ^ Sullivan, Meg (July 3, 1992). "Keeping Traditional Crafts Alive". Daily News of Los Angeles. Los Angeles, California. p. L.A. Life Section, L45.
  10. ^ Govenar, Alan (2001). Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio. ISBN 1576072401.
  11. ^ Govenar, Alan B. (2006). Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 9780763620479.
  12. ^ 1989 NEA National Heritage Fellow: Chesley Goseyun Wilson Archived October 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, National Endowment for the Arts (USA)
  13. ^ Colker, David (October 4, 2014). "Musician Nati Cano dies at 81; leader of Mariachi los Camperos". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 25, 2014.
  14. ^ "Jerry Brown". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  15. ^ Broadfoot, Jan. "Twentieth-Century Tar Heels," Broadfoot's of Wendell, 2004.
  16. ^ "Fatima Kuinova". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  17. ^ Jason Ankeny. "Elder Roma Wilson". AllMusic. Retrieved October 28, 2011.
  18. ^ "Lifetime Honors: Bruce Caesar." Archived September 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine National Endowment for the Arts. (retrieved August 6, 2011)
  19. ^ "News | NEA". February 5, 2014. Archived from the original on September 21, 2012. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  20. ^ "Big Joe Duskin; Bluesman who flourished in later life – obituary by Tony Russell". The Guardian. London. June 19, 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2009.
  21. ^ "About Ka'upena Wong". February 7, 2013. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  22. ^ "NEA Announces Lifetime Honors Recipients". National Endowment for the Arts. June 25, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  23. ^ Yohe, Jill Ahlberg; Greeves, Teri (2019). Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. Minneapolis Institute of Art in association with the University of Washington Press. p. 131. ISBN 9780295745794. LCCN 2018967294. Keshick refers to her practice as 'quill art' rather than 'quill work,' both to assert the aesthetic significance of her creations and to firmly position this artistic practice as a valued art form.
  24. ^ "NEA Announces Recipients of Nation's Highest Award in the Folk and Traditional Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. June 9, 2015. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  25. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of Clarissa Rizal, 2016 National Heritage Fellow". National Endowment for the Arts. NEA. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  26. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2018 National Heritage Fellows". National Endowment for the Arts. June 20, 2018.
  27. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2019 National Heritage Fellows". National Endowment for the Arts. June 18, 2019. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  28. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2020 Recipients of Nation's Highest Honor in the Folk and Traditional Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. June 23, 2020. Retrieved July 27, 2020.
  29. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2021 NEA National Heritage Fellows". National Endowment for the Arts. June 15, 2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021.

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