Folk & Traditional Arts Program

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Folk & Traditional Arts Program is one means through which the Wisconsin Arts Board (WAB) fulfills its mission to study, encourage and assist artistic and cultural activities in the state, and assist communities in creating and developing their own arts programs. The Folk Arts Program has been a part of this mission since 1981 by:

  • conducting research fieldwork to identify and document folk artists and traditions,
  • preserving Wisconsin’s folk arts traditions in local communities,
  • presenting folk arts and artists to the public,
  • including folk arts and artists in K-12 offerings,
  • providing folk arts grants, and
  • sponsoring/co-sponsoring initiatives that meet the overall mission of the agency.​

Folk & Traditional Arts Grant Programs

The Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program

The Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program provides year-long awards that support respected master traditional artists in teaching their skills to committed and talented apprentices. Find details on the current grant program including deadlines and guidelines.

Creative Communities Grants

The Creative Communities grants program provides support for projects that further the Arts Board’s goals in three areas: Arts Education; Folk and Traditional Arts; and Local Arts. The goals for the Folk and Traditional Arts component are:

  • To identify, assist, and honor the finest traditional artists
  • To support the cultural activities of traditional communities in which such artists flourish
  • To make the significance of Wisconsin’s multicultural heritage available to the wider public.

Find details on the current grant program including deadlines and guidelines​

Folk & Traditional Arts Resources and Initiatives

Publications and Manuscripts

Home Cooked Culture: Wisconsin through Recipes

Terese Allen, ed. with Choua Ly
Enjoy the home town flavors of Wisconsin through the recipes and stories in this cookbook. The participants in the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Wisconsin Folklife Festival contributed these, many of which they demonstrated and discussed during the festivals. Learn about the special place these foods have in local family and ethnic traditions.

Kids Guide to Local Culture

Mark Wagler, Ruth Olson, Anne Pryor
"Kids' Guide to Local Culture" (PDF 2.5MB) provides elementary students with kid-friendly strategies for investigating the cultural content of their own communities. The companion pieces are Teachers' Guide to Local Culture and Field Guide to Hmong Culture​. You can order hard copies of the book from the Madison Children's Museum. Produced in partnership with the Hmong Cultural Tour​ and the Madison Children's Museum.

Quilting Circles, Learning Communities: Community and Curriculum Guide, Grades K-12

Anne Pryor and Nancy B. Blake, eds.
Educators in a range of classroom settings will find this curriculum - with its practical activities, culturally contextualized essays, and guides for further exploration and study - a welcome and innovative addition to their own teaching toolkits. A CD allows quilt images to be projected, multiplying the possibilities of group discussions or large-scale patterns from which to practice sewing techniques. The lessons in Quilting Circles, Learning Communities move between hands-on projects and studying quilts in cultural contexts. They invite students to make connections with the quilts in their own lives. All lessons are interdisciplinary, infusing art with social studies, language arts, and technology. All lessons are linked with Wisconsin curriculum standards.

Wisconsin Folklife: A Celebration of Wisconsin Traditions

Richard March and Marshall Cook, eds.
These articles highlight the enduring traditions that give Wisconsin its unique personality. This 12-article compilation served as the program book for the 1998 Wisconsin Folklife Festival.

Woodland Ways: Folk Arts Apprenticeships among Wisconsin Indians 1983-1993

Janet C. Gilmore & Richard March

In its early years, the WAB Apprenticeship Program primarily served the Native American communities of Wisconsin. This manuscript documents some of the 75 master artists and 150 apprentices from Ho Chunk, Menominee, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Oneida, and Stockbridge-Munsee nations who participated in the program.

Audio and Video Productions

The Culture of America: A Cross-Country Visit with the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows

National Endowment for the Arts​

Two of Wisconsin's finest traditional artists, Karen Ann Hoffman (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), Iroquois Raised Beadworker from Stevens Point, and Wayne Valliere (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe), Birchbark Canoe Builder from Waaswaaganing (Lac du Flambeau) are among only nine recipients of the annual award. These lifetime honor awards are given in recognition of both artistic excellence and efforts to sustain cultural traditions for future generations. The National Heritage Fellowship is the highest honor that our nation bestows on traditional artists.​ Additional information about Wisconsin's 2020 National Heritage Award Fellows is available here​.​

Deep Polka: Dance Music from the Midwest

Smithsonian Folkways
Polka is an essential musical form in the Midwest bringing thousands of people together to dance each weekend. Outstanding selections from recordings by seven bands, representing seven distinct regional traditions—"Dutchman," Norwegian, Polish, Tamburitza, Slovenian, Finnish, and Czech—demonstrate the deep musical and cultural roots that are so significant to its participants. Included are extensive notes, song texts, translations, bibliography and a discography. Curated, written and compiled by Rick March.

Deeper Polka: More Dance Music from the Midwest

Smithsonian Folkways
Folklorist and musician Rick March curated this compilation of 27 selections by seven Midwestern bands, each performing in its distinctive ethnic polka style. A 26-page booklet accompanies the CD, providing context on the music and musicians.

Down Home Dairyland

Wisconsin Public Radio
"Down Home Dairyland" is a set of audio recordings and a printed listener's guide from the popular radio show of the same name. Each segment features traditional or ethnic music of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, the voices of reigonal performers, and commentary by folklorists Rick March and Jim Leary. The Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures' website has many sections of Down Home Dairyland available for listening.

Polka 2000: Old Songs for a New Century

Ootek Productions This video features some of the younger polka musicians highlighted in the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and the Wisconsin Folklife Festival in Madison. The video discusses polka's past and future through the voices and music of Wisconsin artists Steve Meisner, Karl Hartwich, Mark Dombrowski, and Marie Kubowski. Performances include lively outdoor gigs and intimate unplugged solos and duos that provide up-close artistry of Steve Meisner, Karl Hartwich and siblings Mark Dubrowski and Marie Kubowski. Produced in partnership with Wisconsin Public Television.

Wisconsin Folks

Ootek Productions This one-hour documentary samples Wisconsin's finest traditional cooks, dancers, musicians, artists, and workers during the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Folklife Festival (Washington D.C.) and subsequent Wisconsin Folklife Festival (Madison). It shows how the members of our diverse state keep their cultural heritage alive through arts, music, recreation, the foods they make and the work they do. Filming locations around the state include a Belgian Kermis festival in Door County, a deer hunting camp near Danbury, a polka ballroom in Sauk City, a Danish bakery in Racine, and a catfishing hotspot on the Mississippi River near Trempealeau.​


Wisconsin Folks

"Wisconsin Folks" features Wisconsin folk artists, their work and related cultural traditions. Teacher resources link the content to Wisconsin academic standards and offer extension materials. Hiring information on more than 70 individuals artists and performing groups allows schools and agencies to directly contact these artists for programs. The artists include musicians, dancers, visual artists, cooks and regional specialists.

Wisconsin Teachers of Local Culture

A cross-disciplinary approach to education that turns traditional arts and practices into content for curriculum that meets Wisconsin Model Academic Standards. WTLC offers assistance on local culture projects and professional development opportunities for teachers, including an annual cultural tour of the state. Current partners are WAB, Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and Chippewa Valley Museum.

Wisconsin Weather Stories

"Wisconsin Weather Stories" provides K-12 units on the science and stories of Wisconsin weather. This interdisciplinary curriculum was produced through a partnership between WAB, UW-Madison atmospheric scientists and folklorists, and five classroom teachers from across the state.

Past Events & Programming

"Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Tradition”​

June 3, 2017
Stoughton Opera House
​381 E. Main St., Stoughton

Wisconsin's rich cultural heritage shines in this annual concert. Experience the incredible talent of Wisconsin masters in Hawaiian dance and chant, Bharatnatyam classical Indian dance, Armenian oud, Slovenian-style polka, and Hmong qe​ej. Joining these performers on stage are their apprentices who are poised to carry it forward. Off stage, meet expert craft artists whose handwork carries their culture in Norwegian rosemaling, Iroquois raised beadwork, Anishinaabe hand drums, and southwest Wisconsin hand-forged hunting knives. You​'ll leave proud and impressed with Wisconsin's wealth of cultures. Presented by Wisconsin Arts Board and its Folk A​​rts Apprenticeship Program.

"Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Tradition"

October 2012 - March 2013
Art Court at the Dane County Regional Airport
4000 International Lane, Madison

The Wisconsin Arts Board is pleased to be partnering with UW-Madison Tandem Press on an exhibition highlighting the Wisconsin Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. The exhibition, “Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Tradition,” will feature the work of 27 master artists who have successfully taught a promising apprentice through the Apprenticeship Program. The exhibition was organized by Anne Pryor, Folk and Traditional Arts Specialist at the Wisconsin Arts Board with artists Jose Chavez of Milwaukee and Karen Ann Hoffman of Stevens Point. It was coordinated by UW–Madison Tandem Press. An opening reception was held at the Art Court on Friday, October 5, 2012 from 5:00 – 7:00 pm. Performers featured in the exhibition will perform.

Wisconsin/Chiba Sister State Cultural Exchange

Since 1990, Wisconsin and Chiba, Japan have been sister-states and as such they enjoy an ongoing cultural exchange of traditional artists. See photos from the 2000-2008 delegations and the 2010 Japanese delegation in Wisconsin. Produced in partnership with Wisconsin-Chiba, Inc.

Midwest Folklife Festival

This annual festival showcases the rich cultural arts and traditions of the Upper Midwest. The Midwest Folklife Festival is a project of varying combinations of the folk arts programs and state arts agencies of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

As a centerpiece in the year-long celebration of its sesquicentennial, Wisconsin was the featured state in the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. WAB coordinated the effort to send 120 practitioners of Wisconsin's artistic and cultural traditions to Washington D.C. where they represented the state's heritage for two weeks on the National Mall. You can read the articles on Wisconsin traditions published in the festival's program book, 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Enjoy this video of the UW-Madison Marching Band's performance at the festival. 

Wisconsin Folklife Festival

WAB produced an expanded version of the Wisconsin program in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival because we wanted the folks back home to share the riches. The Wisconsin Folklife Festival was held for four days in Madison in August 1998. More than 120 traditional artists from Wisconsin plus an additional 120 international traditional artists from Wisconsin's five sister states encircled the Capitol, delighting and educating Wisconsinites about shared traditions.


Michigan-Wisconsin Border Project

This research project was a joint venture to reach out to economically restrained and underserved areas along the Michigan-Wisconsin border. Five fieldworkers explored the five Wisconsin border counties of Iron, Vilas, Forest, Florence, and Marinette in the summer of 1994, prepared preliminary documentation on over a dozen traditional artists, and submitted reports on each county's cultural activities and needs.

Wisconsin Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program Collection

This collection of slides, applications and reports reflect twelve years of grant making to master traditional artists to teach their skills to apprentices. The artists are primarily members of Wisconsin's Woodland Indian nations--Ho-Chunks, Menominees, six bands of Ojibwas, Oneidas, Potawatomis, and Stockbridge-Munsees. Supported Woodland traditions included beadwork, quillwork, black ash or birchbark basketry, the making of dance regalia, drum or other instrument making, wood and metalworking, traditional singing and dancing, and storytelling. Traditional art forms from other cultural groups are represented in the collection as well, such as Arab and African drumming, Hmong-American qeej-playing, Czech- and Slovak-American wheat weaving, Mexican-American dance, Norwegian-American rosemaling​ and woodcarving, and Puerto Rican-American musical instrument making.​

Smithsonian Folklife Festival & Wisconsin Folklife Festival

Extensive research by multiple fieldworkers preceded the staging of the Smithsonian and Wisconsin Folklife Festivals in 1998. WAB maintains this collection of audio and video recordings, written reports, images and printed materials developed prior to and during the festivals.


Wisconsin Teachers of Local Culture

A v​ibrant network of committed local culture educators that provides support in the areas of curriculum, development, teaching, resource identification, communication, and advocacy.

Folk Arts in Education

A cross-disciplinary approach to education that turns traditional arts and practices into content for curriculum that meets Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and the Common Core standards. See Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts in Education for more info

Regional Partnerships

​​WAB was co-host for the 2012 Midwest Folklorists' Retreat​. This gathering provided professional development and networking opportunities to folklorists in or interested in the Midwest. It was held at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin on May 31 - June 3.

​​​Since 2001, WAB has partnered with the folk arts programs and state arts agencies of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota to produce an annual festival that showcases the rich cultural arts and traditions of the Upper Midwest. In 2013 and 2014, host state Michigan highlighted the Midwest Folklife Festival within its Great Lakes Folk Festival​ in East Lansing, Michigan.​​​