Northwest Folklife

Executive Artistic Director, Kelli Faryar, Announces Departure After 12 Years of Service

April 21, 2021

Today, we announce that Kelli Faryar, Northwest Folklife’s Executive Artistic Director, will be departing after 12 years of serving our organization. Marking the organization’s 50th anniversary, Faryar made this difficult decision to step down to make space for a new leader to drive Northwest Folklife forward with an emphasis on centering racial equity.

During her tenure, Faryar expanded programming with the addition of the Indie Roots program, the annual Seattle Children’s Festival, Our Big Neighborhood year-round program, Youth Residencies, and the Roots and Branches recording series. Faryar developed Cultural Focus programs such as Echoes of Aztlan and Beyond (2018), Festál Turns 20 (2017), The Power of the Human Voice through Song (2016), and Traditional Roots of Hip-Hop Culture (2015). In 2020, she led the pivot to a completely virtual festival, bringing communities together despite required social distancing due to the pandemic.

Kelli Faryar wearing an Indigenous woven blanket over her shoulders and holding a bouquet of white lilies

Kelli Faryar being honored at the Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration during the 2018 Northwest Folklife Festival | Photo by Christopher Nelson

A message from Kelli Faryar:

“Our communities are in a pivotal moment of change, from surviving the impacts of the pandemic to standing in solidarity with continued demands for racial justice. As we celebrate the 50th Northwest Folklife Festival this May, it is clear the organization’s next chapter demands a new vision and voice for program leadership. A good leader must know when to step forward and when to step back, and I feel this is my time to step aside. It is time to re-imagine our work through a lens of equity and inclusion, to move forward with intentionality, in a spirit of progress. It is time for our program leader to be from the communities from which we serve.

For the past 12 years, I’ve been deeply committed to amplifying community voices and culture-bearers in collaborative and authentic programming through our Community Coordinator program. It has been an honor to serve and to work side-by-side with so many incredible individuals, artists, elders, and youth. Through this, I was able to ensure that Folklife not only evolved alongside the communities it is a platform for, but that it is built for and by the community.

Together with our staff and our Community Coordinators, I have been proud to perpetuate a culture of programming that honors community voices and creates agency; one that centers Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and that reflects Folklife as something that all of us carry and share. Although no longer serving as the Executive Artistic Director, I will continue to support Folklife’s mission as something that has become essential to me and my family’s life. My hope is that my stepping aside opens up an opportunity for increased commitment to racial equity and social justice for years to come, with a new leader from the community, to propel forward the next generation of folklife.”

Kelli Faryar, in a green shirt, handing a bouquet of pink roses to Pastor Pat Wright, in a red shirt

Kelli Faryar honoring Pastor Pat Wright at her last performance with the Total Experience Gospel Choir at the 2018 Northwest Folklife Festival  | Photo by Christopher Nelson

“Kelli has been a valued member of the Northwest Folklife team since 2008 and has been unwavering in her support of, and engagement with, the communities that make up our organization, “ said Michelle Demers Shaevitz, Northwest Folklife Board President. “I know that her contributions to the greater Folklife community will continue and support our organization and it’s very necessary work. We are grateful for her years of service, in particular, the last three as our Executive Artistic Director, and appreciate her leadership as she ushered in a bright future for this Pacific Northwest legacy organization.”

Kelli hopes that her decision to step down will allow for a new emerging leader to see Northwest Folklife flourish in its next 50. She is working closely with the Board of Directors for a transition in June of 2021. Kelli will continue her leadership duties through the duration of the 50th Annual Northwest Folklife Festival. The posting for the position will launch the week of April 26 and will be available on Northwest Folklife’s website ( Questions may be directed to