On July 3, 1982, the Festival hosted a ceremony awarding the first annual National Heritage Fellowships. These honors, organized and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), were awarded to traditional musicians and craftspersons who have made outstanding contributions to the cultural life of our nation. Complementing the award ceremony, the Festival presented a series of daily tribute concerts to demonstrate respect and esteem for the talent, vision, and application of the recipients. In addition, an exhibition of crafts by Fellows was shown in the National Museum of American History through August 1982.
Being host to an extraordinary number of human beings from different parts of the world, we in the United States are thereby hosts to an extraordinary number of matured and developed artistic and technical traditions. It is this that the Folk Arts Program of the NEA celebrates through its National Heritage Fellowships. Each year, beginning in 1982, NEA intended to greet, salute, and honor a few examples of the dazzling array of artistic traditions inherited throughout our nation's fortunate history. Each year, another assortment of splendid master American folk artists and artisans representing still different artistic forms and traditions would be presented. The hope and belief was that this could continue far into the future, each year's group of artists demonstrating yet other distinctive art forms from the American experience.
The fifteen master traditional artists honored with the 1982 National Heritage Fellowships had each taken their respective art form to a new height. Many were old friends of the Festival, often having been invited to participate in its earlier years. Each one built upon the inventions, the perfected techniques, the aesthetic experiments of countless artists in the same tradition who had gone on before - singers, musicians, and artisans whose names we will never know. In honoring the recipients of the National Heritage Fellowships in 1982, NEA honored their artistic forebears as well. It is this, perhaps, that truly distinguished these awards - that in the persons of these outstanding individuals we can honor an entire tradition and the long line of earlier artists who have helped invent the many folk art forms that grace our land and our people.
Marjorie Hunt, Heritage Program Coordinator