To honor and preserve our nation’s diverse cultural heritage, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) annually awards one-time-only NEA National Heritage Fellowships to master folk and traditional artists. These fellowships recognize lifetime achievement, artistic excellence, and contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. Since the program’s inception in 1982, more than 400 master artists have received a fellowship.
Nominees must be worthy of national recognition and have a record of continuing artistic accomplishment. They must be actively participating in their art form, either as practitioners or as teachers. Fellows are selected according to criteria of authenticity, excellence, and significance within the particular artistic tradition. In addition, one fellowship, named after noted folklorist and former NEA Folk & Traditional Arts Director Bess Lomax Hawes, is presented to those who have made a major contribution to the excellence, vitality, and public appreciation of the folk and traditional arts through teaching, collecting, advocacy, or preservation work. Fellowships are awarded on the basis of nominations from the public. Nominations may be for individuals or for a group of individuals (for example, a duo). The recipients must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Posthumous fellowships will not be awarded.Nominations can be made either online or by mail. Information on the nomination process can be found at http://arts.gov/honors/heritage
A national panel reviews the nominations and makes recommendations to the National Council on the Arts, which subsequently forwards the names to the NEA Chairman for final approval. Each year, the fellows are invited to Washington, DC, to receive the award in a special ceremony on Capitol Hill, followed by a concert celebrating the artists and presenting their art to the general public.