NEA Arts Magazine

25 Years Honoring Master Folk Artists


Chairman Gioia, NEA National Heritage Fellow Martin Goicoechea, and Senator Michael B. Enzi

Chairman Gioia, NEA National Heritage Fellow Martin Goicoechea, and Senator Michael B. Enzi (Wyoming) holding Tom Pich's portrait of Goicoechea at the reception celebrating the program's 25th anniversary. Photo by Tom Pich.

On June 29, 2007, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia announced the 25th-anniversary class of NEA National Heritage Fellows, the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, during the Ralph Rinzler concert at the 2007 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC.

The Rinzler Concert was an especially fitting background for the announcement as this year's concert honored Bess Lomax Hawes. An influential advocate, educator, and producer, Hawes served as the NEA's first Folk and Traditional Arts Director, founding the National Heritage Fellowship program in 1982. Hawes was unable to attend the concert, but was praised for tirelessly promoting the folk arts. Three NEA National Heritage Fellows offered musical entertainment: Piedmont blues guitarist John Cephas (performing with longtime accompanist Phil Wiggins on harmonica); Celtic musician Liz Carroll; and fiddler Michael Doucet.

The NEA created a special 25th-anniversary publication on the NEA National Heritage Fellowships program, highlighting 70 of the 327 recipients of the award and including a special DVD-Rom with biographical information, photos, music, and videos of all the Fellows from 1982 to 2006, created by the Dallas, Texas-based nonprofit, Documentary Arts. Copies of the publication can be obtained free of charge at

The June Heritage anniversary activities also included a weeklong exhibition of 36 portraits by Tom Pich, a freelance photographer who has traveled the country photographing Heritage Fellows since 1991. Members of Congress admired Pich's photos, which were displayed in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building. Senators Edward M. Kennedy (Massachusetts), Michael B. Enzi (Wyoming), and Norm Coleman (Minnesota) hosted a reception to celebrate the anniversary and honor past fellows, many of whom were present.

Pich returned toWashington on September 18, when the 2007 NEA National Heritage Fellows received their awards at a Capitol Hill ceremony, with the celebration continuing at a banquet at the Library of Congress. Later that week, a capacity crowd packed the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland, for the annual NEA National Heritage Fellows Concert. Biographies of and interviews with the 2007 NEA National Heritage Fellows can be found on the NEAWeb site at year=2007.

The NEA National Heritage Fellowship program is presented with support from the Darden Restaurants Foundation and the Darden family of restaurants including Red Lobster and Olive Garden.