2021 National Heritage Fellows Celebrated in Film Debut of The Culture of America

Actor Jimmy Smits Hosts the Virtual Event on November 17 on arts.gov

Spanish version

Washington, DC—The National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the National Council for the Traditional Arts, will present The Culture of America: A Cross-Country Visit with the 2021 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows, on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 at 8:00 pm ET. Emmy Award-winning actor Jimmy Smits will host the film and take viewers on a virtual trip across the country where this year’s National Heritage Fellows live and work. The pre-recorded virtual presentation will be webcast free to the public at arts.gov. 

Recognizing artistic excellence and contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage, the National Heritage Fellowship is our nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. “The traditions of these culture bearers are shared in this film as stories of community, of unity, and of individual pride for one’s heritage,” said Ann Eilers, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “The diverse artforms of the National Heritage Fellows invite us to understand and appreciate the experiences of the past and allow us to see a bright future where culture grounds us and new ideas take hold.”

During the one-hour film, viewers will:

  • Hear the music of Cedric Burnside as the rhythm of Hill Country Blues pulses through the neighborhoods of North Mississippi. Burnside credits his family before him for the knowledge and encouragement to pursue performing and writing music as he passes the tradition on to the next generation through his daughter. 
  • Join Tagumpay Mendoza De Leon and his Rondalla Club of Los Angeles to learn how the rondalla music of the Philippines connects the community of Filipino Americans to one another. “Uncle Pi” has been teaching rondalla for 20 years, helping his students learn about themselves and their Filipino culture. 
  • Connect with the essence of the Osage people as Anita Fields (Osage/Muscogee) shares Osage ribbon work and how her creative works have contemporary influences while paying tribute to the ancestors.
  • Take a trip down memory lane with Los Lobos as members of the band reminisce about their beginnings in East Los Angeles, California, and the folkloric musical influences that are embedded in their music, which provide the roots for the band’s own sound today.
  • Meet Joanie Madden at her home in the Irish American neighborhood of Yonkers, New York, to learn about her lifetime love of music that was passed down through her family and that she continues to share through her group, Cherish the Ladies, which plays traditional Irish music for audiences all over the world. 
  • Explore Chicago, Illinois, with Reginald “Reggio The Hoofer” McLaughlin as he taps his way through the park, in the subway, across bridges, and on the streets. McLaughlin’s infectious energy and love for dance convey a joy that will have viewers tapping along. 
  • Connect with Nellie Vera Sánchez in Moca, Puerto Rico, where the intricate bobbin lace practice of sewing mundillo has a long history. Vera shares patterns and designs that were taught to her with love and how she continues to pass on the art form. 
  • Learn about the Easter Rock ritual as Louisiana’s Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble maintains the African American tradition which combines music and food with Christian and West African influences. 
  • Visit Tom Davenport at his home in Delaplane, Virginia, as he shares the importance of documenting history through filmmaking and how he created Folkstreams—a free independent film streaming platform—as a way to share American traditional cultures with the world. Davenport is the 2021 recipient of the Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellowship, presented in recognition of an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.

Jimmy Smits is known for his roles in the television dramas NYPD Blue and The West Wing and more recently, in the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical In the Heights. Co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Smits is lauded for his impact as a Latinx actor and for advancing access for Latinx artists in the media.   

Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #NEAHeritage21. The Culture of America: A Cross-Country Visit with the 2021 NEA National Heritage Fellows will continue to be available to watch on arts.gov following the November 17th debut.

About the National Heritage Fellowships
The National Heritage Fellowships are the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Including the 2021 class, the Arts Endowment has awarded 458 National Heritage Fellowships, recognizing artists working in more than 200 distinct art forms, including Japanese classical dancer Gertrude Yukie Tsutsumi, Tejano musician and singer Manuel "Cowboy" Donley, Passamaquoddy basketmaker Molly Neptune Parker, leatherworker James F. Jackson, oud player and composer Rahim AlHaj, and quilting community advocate Carolyn Mazloomi. More information about the National Heritage Fellows is available on the Arts Endowment’s website.

About the National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more.


Allison Hill