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NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE FAQ

Northwest Folklife is an independent 501(c)(3) arts organization that celebrates the multigenerational arts, cultures, and traditions of a global Pacific Northwest. Since 1972, Northwest Folklife has been deeply committed to celebrating the diversity of our Northwest communities and demystifying our differences together, under one roof. To learn more about our organization, please visit our About page.

Northwest Folklife believes that arts and culture strengthen our communities and should be accessible for all. Our year-round programming is produced in collaboration with over 100+ different Community Coordinators and powered by contributions from the community, corporations, foundations, and the public sector.

We have seven main programs throughout the year: the Northwest Folklife Festival, the annual Cultural Focus, the Community Coordinator program, Our Big Neighborhood, Youth Empowerment through Arts and Heritage (Y.E.A.H.), and Cultural & Creative Workforce Development, and Home-to-Home. 

Most notable of our events is the annual Northwest Folklife Festival, a community-powered celebration of the music, arts, and heritage of the Pacific Northwest. With over 4,000 performers on 20+ stages, 200 food/craft/import vendors, and 500 volunteers, the Northwest Folklife Festival remains one of the largest access-for-all festivals in the nation since 1972. In 2020, the Northwest Folklife Festival pivoted to an online experience, launching From Home to Home: Northwest Folklife Festival. Since 2022, the Northwest Folklife Festival has been a hybrid virtual and in-person festival. 

We believe that celebrating arts and culture is a great way for people to share their cultural heritage with the public. Cultural exchange is an opportunity to dissolve misunderstandings, break down stereotypes, and increase respect for one another. It also helps revitalize people and communities. And because culture is always evolving, we facilitate a platform to celebrate the new arts and traditions that communities want to share.

We collaborate with a variety of diverse communities of the Pacific Northwest–including Washington, Oregon, Western Montana, Idaho, Alaska, British Columbia, and Alberta–to inspire programs and public presentations of all forms of cultural expression that are practiced, performed, and taught in the Northwest. The annual Festival includes over 4,000 participants and 500 volunteers, 200 food and craft vendors, and attracts over 250,000 attendees.

The expansion of the Our Big Neighborhood program into smaller community events throughout the year, has contributed over 20 recurring and stand-alone events for over 1000 audience members, featuring over 35 performers in 2022/2023 alone.

We’re glad you asked! We have several definitions of “folklife”— it’s a hard concept to pin down! The US Library of Congress says ’folklife’ is “the everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass onto the next generation.” That provides a broad base that enables us to program the many diverse kinds of performers, practitioners, and presentations that are all around us in the Pacific Northwest.

Northwest Folklife is a year-round arts and culture organization that produces the Northwest Folklife Festival, among other year-round programs. Northwest Folklife creates opportunities throughout the year for people to celebrate, share, and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest. You can see a full list of our year-round programs here.

The annual Northwest Folklife Festival is our flagship event held every Memorial Day Weekend at Seattle Center. The Festival is produced by a small group of staff, over 150 Community Coordinators, and hundreds of volunteers. This event is made possible by the generous support of donors, Friends of Folklife, volunteers, sponsors, and partners.

For over 50 years, Northwest Folklife has appreciated the long relationship with Seattle Center, ensuring both the presentation of the iconic Northwest Folklife Festival in the center of the city and Seattle Center as the home base for the organization through 2023. The combination of City support, voluntary donations from festival attendees, other donations and sponsorships obtained by Northwest Folklife, the work of hundreds of volunteers, and many of the performers performing for free, allow the annual Northwest Folklife Festival to be presented to the public without financial barrier.

When you support NW Folklife with a donation of any size, you become a Friend of Folklife. Friends of Folklife benefits include an invitation to our annual Friends appreciation picnic, early access to our Festival Guide, and Invitation to “First Look,” our pre-Festival VIP preview and reception for our Festival Poster Artists.

As you can imagine, producing our Festival is expensive! Tax-deductible donations help to pay for festival production costs, provide general operating funds to help keep the lights on and the copy machines running. They also help pay salaries for our 15 year-round staff members. Contributions also help us continue to showcase talented musicians, provide fun activities for children, offer community dance venues, and so much more. Make a Donation!

Historically, Northwest Folklife hosted hundreds of volunteers covering thousands of festival hours. In 2023 we had over 79 emcee volunteers,100 folk floor installers and maintainers and 60 general volunteers. We are always looking for new volunteers to become part of our year-round team as we continue to create new programming throughout the state. We have opportunities for people of all abilities and look forward to connecting with new people and new communities!

The Festival depends on hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Hundreds of volunteers contribute thousands of hours during each Festival! It’s a fun, great way to meet new people and it gives you an opportunity to become part of what makes the Northwest Folklife Festival so special.

NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE FESTIVAL FAQ

Come to the Festival to discover a wide variety of music, dance, arts, food, traditions, and heritage that thrive in our region. At the Festival you are likely to hear new kinds of music and discover a variety of food, try out a new type of dance, and experience fresh perspectives on the cultures in this area. Join festival goers from all over the world! The Northwest Folklife Festival is one of the largest of its kind–a community-powered, multi-day event providing multiple opportunities to celebrate all forms of cultural expression.

Festival Hours: 

Friday  11AM - 10PM

Saturday  11AM - 10PM

Sunday  11AM - 10PM

Monday  11AM - 9PM 

Northwest Folklife's mission is to create opportunities for ALL to experience and celebrate the thriving folk art traditions in our community. We believe strongly that arts and culture should be accessible to everyone, and we are committed to access for all regardless of background or income and therefore continue to operate without tickets or gates. 

Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government and corporate partners to offset operating expenses and rising costs of producing the Festival and our year-round cultural programs. It’s not easy to sustain, and we need your support. On average, over the past several years, we have estimated that about 17% of all Festival attendees make a financial contribution. This is not enough to produce and sustain an event of this caliber.

This year, we ask Festival attendees for a modest daily donation of $20 per person, and we are grateful for contributions of any size. Folklife is here for you, but it is also made possible BY YOU. Show your love for Folklife today to help us keep the magic going.

The Northwest Folklife Festival is created for and by the people. Northwest Folklife collaborates with communities to showcase culturally significant arts and culture experiences and is committed to a model of co-creation and co-curation. We have developed relationships with over 150 unique ethnic and cultural communities through which we have established the Community Coordinator Program which partners individuals, who are active in and are able to authentically represent their communities, with Northwest Folklife program staff to build programming and events that are responsive and relevant to those communities. Being community-powered means that we rely on contributions – community voice and input, monetary gifts, in-kind donations, and volunteerism – from people and groups that come to the Northwest Folklife Festival. Speaking of participants, performers, artists, and workshop leaders all volunteer their time. The largest part of expenses are in the cost of production – stages, sound systems, electricity, tents, etc. – and the labor to operate this enormous event. You can help ensure that Festival remains accessible to all AND remains an amazing representation of our communities’ arts, culture, heritage and traditions for future generations.

We suggest a donation of $20 per person, but gladly accept donations of any amount! You can contribute cash gifts at any gate or Information & Donation station. To find out more or donate online, please visit our Friends of Folklife page.

We create and explore opportunities to showcase regional artists, traditional dance, music, storytelling, and exhibits through partnerships with diverse cultural and ethnic communities in the region. We developed great relationships with over 100+ Community Coordinators who help connect our programmers with bands and performers and help us keep up to date with what is going on around the Northwest. All the performers on our stages donate their time and energy to the Festival.

The Northwest Folklife Festival is a celebration of how people evolve and keep their traditions alive in the region. We want to share the dance, music, stories, art, and food of diverse communities that thrive in the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes this means bigger names acts take the stage, but the most important thing is to present a wide variety of musical styles and artistic expression, not to have name recognition to draw crowds or sponsorship dollars. All of the Festival’s artists donate their performances in order to share their arts and traditions.

For over a decade we have presented what we call the Cultural Focus that features a Pacific Northwest community through special performances, panels, workshops, exhibitions, demonstrations, and activities. It’s a way for us to connect more in-depth with the people that we serve and empower their artistic expressions and cultural traditions.

Since coming back to an in-person festival in 2022, NW Folklife has organized a 5-year Cultural Focus Series. For the time being, instead of featuring Pacific Northwest communities for this series, we decided to pick themes that revolve around universal concepts and philosophies of the human condition. For a list of these themes, visit here.

For a complete list of past Cultural Focus themes, visit here.

Have a great idea for a Cultural Focus in the future? Email us!


Our Cultural Focus program is chosen in a variety of ways. In keeping with our mission to ‘share, celebrate, and participate in the evolving traditions of the Pacific Northwest’, it’s important for Folklife to represent communities present here in the Northwest, both existing and emerging.

As our Cultural Focus is a year-round program, this allows staff to engage deeper with communities beyond the Folklife Festival. Whether it’s with a new community not yet represented at the Festival, or a community that has been showcasing at the Festival for many years, ideas are both curated and submitted to engage people, communities, and the arts in ways that explore, learn, and celebrate our humanity.

Have an idea for the next Cultural Focus? Feel free to email us.

From music and dance performances to food vendors to family hands-on activities, the Northwest Folklife Festival has something to offer to everyone. In our last 2 festivals, we’ve introduced a few new ingredients, including:

  • Threads of the People is our take on a fashion show, featuring a mix of runway shows, workshops and demos, vendor booths, displays and material swaps. This new addition to the festival will explore fashion as a folk art, the ways in which fashion and culture are interwoven, and seek to bring fashion back to its roots - when our clothing was created in homes, by hand, and from materials found in our natural environment.

  • The Maker’s Space is designed to showcase and give hands-on demonstrations of the wide world of craft. We want to encourage and instill a sense of wonder and imagination in our own creative imaginings and curiosities.

  • Our Kuleana Corridor is an exploration of the Folk vocation, bringing the people, communities, organizations, and cooperatives who are actively engaging in techniques that promote bio-diversity, support sustainable & healthy food production, and give strength to the cause of food justice, security, and sovereignty.

  • Our Window Gallery is part one of a larger mission to include more visual arts components to the festival. We hope to elevate the work of artists of all disciplines around our region, and will work to add more gallery spaces to the festival grounds.

The Northwest Folklife Festival remains accessible to all because of generous contributions – monetary gifts, in-kind donations and volunteerism – from YOU! In order to sustain the values and mission of OUR Festival for future generations, we gladly accept donations of any amount. We suggest a donation of $20 per person – that’s like getting hundreds of performances for the price of one show at a local venue! Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government, and corporate partners in order to meet operating expenses, produce the annual Festival, and maintain year-round educational programs and events. You, too, can become a Friend of Folklife and receive special benefits.

All Festival performers and merchants (food, crafts, etc.) must apply to be a part of the Festival. Applications are available in the fall. To receive an application for the next Festival, check online at www.nwfolklife.org.

There is a long history of Street Performance as a tradition both at Folklife and throughout history.

Street performers add a vibrant and important piece to the overall feel and concept of Folklife. We are creating opportunities for artists to share their specific cultures with society at large.

Buskers (street performers who solicit tips) are encouraged to share any tips they may receive from their activities. However, Folklife cannot enforce this and the public should be aware they are supporting individuals, not necessarily our organization. We are grateful to those buskers who do choose to share their proceeds and we’re hopeful that trend will increase.

Folklife does not have the right to prevent free speech activities during the Festival. We are operating in a free and open public space. We can not dictate who can perform, assemble, or participate. We do have (and exercise) the right to move street performers/buskers who are interfering with our stages, vendors, or entry/exit points to venues. We also set sonic limitations to how loud buskers can be, but we are prevented from restricting participants based on their messages.


PROGRAMMING FAQ

Traditionally, we program music, dance, storytelling, panels, presentations, and films at the Northwest Folklife Festival. We also schedule workshops, where community performers can teach others about a particular subject.In 2023, we added a fashion show, the Maker’s Space, a visual arts gallery, and Kuleana Corridor, which focuses on food sustainability. In addition, we try to make room for any new kinds of performance arts that people in the community can come up with. If you have an idea for a different kind of program, or you would like to share what you do in your community, please contact us!

After a quick pivot to a virtual festival in the spring of 2020, we have learned a lot from producing online virtual content for the past two years. While we’re excited to be celebrating in person again this year, , there’s a lot to love about the online community that has gathered over time. Therefore, we’re not getting rid of virtual programming but instead are incorporating it into the Festival for the foreseeable future.. This makes the event even more accessible to folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to travel to the Seattle Center. For more information about the virtual programming offered this year, visit here.

We believe everyone involved in our events including performers, volunteers, staff, and the audience should experience our programs free from any harassment or threats. Please see the following code of conduct to help ensure that we maintain this safe space.

Read the full Participant Guidelines here.

Read the Code of Conduct here.


Ideally, we would schedule everyone who applied. But because we have limited space, and we have more applications than we have performance slots, we have several ways we look at an application: What genre or discipline do they represent? How often have they performed at the Festival in the past? What are their tech needs, and can we fulfill them? When can they perform—is their schedule so limited that we can’t fit them in when they’re able to get here? Are they from the Pacific Northwest region? And we listen to and look at all support materials sent in with the applications to get an idea of what a performance would be.

A Showcase is a one-to-three-hour long performance that features a specific genre or culture community. For example, we have had the Bulgarian Showcase, with several music and dance groups performing Bulgarian music, and we have also had the Family Stories showcase, with several storytellers performing stories that are suitable for family audiences. Showcases are organized by Northwest Folklife staff or oftentimes by Community Coordinators.

Community Coordinators are dedicated volunteers and representatives of their community, who work alongside Folklife staff to schedule performances and showcases at the festival. As experts in their community, their input is an invaluable part of the planning process. More than 150 Community Coordinators work closely with staff to program more than 65% of the Northwest Folklife Festival. For more information about Community Coordinators including a list of current participants, click here.

There are many reasons that applicants may not get scheduled. You may have told us you are only available on a certain day at a certain time, and we do not have a space for you then. Or your technical needs may be such that we cannot supply what you need to perform. Or you may have played for several years in a row, and we need to rotate you to give someone else in your genre a chance to perform. Most often, the reason is that there are so many applications for the genre you represent that we have to limit the number of those performances. For example, we usually have more than 200 applications for singer/songwriters, but we can only program a small percentage of that particular genre. We try to rotate applicants in order to be fair to everyone.

We schedule performers for venues or stages that have the equipment they need. For example, not all stages have drum kits or amplifiers. Only some stages are large enough for dance groups. If you are a singer/songwriter, we want to schedule you in a venue where people can hear your lyrics. By the same token, we would most likely schedule a brass band on an outdoor stage because of their volume.

What is “folk”? We define it as anything done by the people! In that sense, “folk” can be anything, and we celebrate the great variety that is a person’s folk life. One of the truly wonderful things about the Northwest Folklife Festival is that we are a community arts festival. We program the kinds of art forms that community members are participating in, and we try to respond positively to all kinds of interesting applications. So the end result is that you can see performances that you might call “folk,” and you can also see new, emerging art forms like 8-bit music. It’s all folk to us!

The Northwest Folklife Festival began in 1972 with a simple goal of creating a platform to share talents and traditions and to pass them on to those who attended. The first performers willingly donated their performances. The Festival grew immensely from that first year and eventually required a professional staff to organize the event and carry it out.

As part of our commitment to advocate and expand the opportunities for the creative sector in our region, Northwest Folklife was able to introduce artist compensation for the first time in 2023 through a partnership with the Office of Economic Development We want to express incredible gratitude to our participants who have still chosen to donate their time and gifts to the festival. The important truth that we must uphold going forward is that it is, and should remain, a choice to do so. As a ticketless festival, it is not our ultimate goal to provide the kind of compensation that headliner festivals offer, but this is a first step in honoring the work and stewardship that our cultural communities provide and their contributions to a larger creative economy.


We encourage audience members to support the artists they love to see at the festival. Many artists will sell merchandise directly after their show, and that’s a great place to start. We are also providing space to provide digital tips to all performers who have venmo, paypal, or other virtual payment apps so that you can easily drop some money into the virtual tip jar from your phone while enjoying their performance! Each artist has a different preferred method, which you can find in the schedule section of the website.

The short answer is that Seattle Center is a public park, and buskers can perform at any public park. The long answer is that we value the energy that our Street Performers bring to the Festival. To learn more about street performing, please click here.

Contact our Programming Department! We’d love to hear from you, and we’re always open to incorporating new communities into the Festival.

There is no “appeal process” as such. We program all of the available slots, so the only way you will be assigned a slot if you are waitlisted is if someone else drops out. Please let us know if you are interested in being assigned a slot even during the Festival itself—sometimes slots unexpectedly open up. You can sign up for the waitlist at Performer Registration.

In 2023, we opened up our Visual Arts opportunities for the festival more than we ever have, and fully intend to continue to find more opportunities for other arts disciplines to be displayed during the festival. With that said, Folklife has limited space for exhibiting two-dimensional art and sculptures. Usually, that space is associated with the annual Cultural Focus in the A/NT Gallery, or in partnership with The Ver(a) Gallery. If you are interested in participating in Folklife as a visual artist, please give us a call and we can determine where there might be a space for you.

If you represent a particular genre or community, and you can bring several other groups or performers together to participate in a showcase, we’d be interested in talking with you! Please give us a call or email us.

No! We encourage you to apply again, as the circumstances may differ each year.  As part of our new Festival App, by filling out an artist profile, we also have your information so that we can contact you for gigs and other opportunities throughout the year.  As we continue to develop our app, we'll be able to post the various events and opportunities for you to apply to throughout the year.  


Yes, you can! BUT—we give preference to those applications that make it in by the deadline.

If you don’t see enough of your favorite kind of performer at Folklife, let us know!