The Traditional Arts Program of The Maine Arts Commission works with communities on strengthening
and presenting their cultural traditions through apprenticeships, fellowships, program development and project support. Through direct support for artists as well as community based projects, the program also brings recognition to those traditional practices that are so much a part of Maine’s cultural landscape, whether it is Wabanaki basketry, Franco fiddling, Rwandan dance or Downeast boat building.
Traditional arts hold great meaning in the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Passed down from one generation to the next, traditional arts are learned in an informal way, usually through observation and example, rather than through classes or formal instruction. Now celebrating its 30 year, the program acts as a kind of cultural aquifer, honoring elders as well as encouraging new artists to pass on their skills to future generations.
Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program
At the heart of the Traditional Arts Program is the Apprenticeship Program. It began in 1990, with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program started as a way of encouraging master traditional artists to teach the next generation.
Based on experience and commitment to their art form, master artists select an apprentice to teach for an extended period of time, one on one, usually for a year. Up to $3,000 is available for the master artists’ teaching fees, supplies and travel costs. Preference is given to selecting apprentices who are members of the same ethnic, religious, occupational, tribal or familial group as the master artist.
Applications are reviewed by the following criteria:
Artistic quality of master’s work according to the standards of the traditional community
Role of master artist and art form in community
Significance of tradition
Skill and commitment of apprentice
Feasibility of work plan
Potential impact of apprenticeship on continued vitality of traditional art
Traditional Arts Fellowship Program
Another way in which the Maine Arts Commission recognizes traditional artists is through the Traditional Arts Fellowship Program. This $5,000 annual award honors a traditional artist whose excellence and lifetime contributions, primarily through teaching, cultural advocacy and sustaining important traditions, has benefited their artistic tradition and community.
Project Grant for Traditional Artists
Up to $2,500 is available for individual traditional artists to help sustain and present their own cultural traditions. The program supports artists’ fees for presentations in a range of community settings including festivals, gatherings, museums and libraries. It also supports professional development for traditional artists including marketing and promotional materials, website development and documentation of specific traditions.
Project Grant for Organizations
Up to $5,000 is available for community based non-profits to document, present and celebrate their own cultural heritage. The funding can also act as seed money for larger collaborations. For example, a project grant awarded to the United Society of Shakers helped support Wabanaki artists’ presentations at the annual Maine Native American Market at Sabbathday Lake.