Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowships


This fellowship program offers $12,000 to tradition-bearers from Central Appalachian counties to pursue lifelong learning through continued training or research.

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Meet the 2021 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellows

Congratulations to the 15 artists and practitioners named 2021 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellows. Click on an artist below to learn more and read about their lifelong practices.

Applications closed

Applications for this program are currently closed. The guidelines below are for reference only.

Detailed Program Description

The Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowships recognize master folk and traditional artists from Appalachian Regional Commission counties in Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee who have demonstrated long-term practice and expertise of their art form or cultural practice. A master artist is an individual who possesses exemplary knowledge and skill and is recognized by their cultural community for their contributions. Awards provide financial support for Fellows to continue learning about their artform. 

The 2021 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowships will provide awards (with limited restrictions) to individual folk and traditional artists to support their continued training, research and/or learning opportunities. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, South Arts urges potential applicants to consider training, research and/or learning opportunities that ensure safe, socially distanced opportunities. These funds may be used for travel, research, equipment, and/or supplies. 

Fellowships will be awarded to traditional artists from eligible counties in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee with a maximum of fifteen awards.  

Please note: This program is distinct from the Southern Prize and State Fellowships and for visual artists in the South Arts nine-state region.

What are folk and traditional arts? 

The South is home to an abundance of folk and traditional art forms. Folk and traditional arts share the aesthetics, practices and values of families, geographic communities, occupational groups, ethnic heritage groups, etc. Folk and traditional arts are learned orally, or by observation and imitation, often through a mentor artist instructing an apprentice. They are usually maintained without formal instruction or academic training. Some traditional arts have a deep-rooted history with little change, while others are constantly evolving and adapting to their changing environment.

For the purposes of this application, the folk and traditional arts of Central Appalachia include, but are not limited to, music, crafts, occupational techniques, foodways, dance, and oral traditions (such as storytelling) that are not self-taught. 

Program Goals

The 2021 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowships follow the purpose of the In These Mountains initiative to “provide intergenerational opportunities to share, teach, learn, preserve, document, and carry forward the folk and traditional arts and culture of Central Appalachia.” For master artists who have dedicated their lives to learning, perfecting, and immersing themselves in the histories, practices, and skills of their community’s folk arts and culture, a fellowship will provide them with resources to engage in new lifelong learning opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible.  

A lifelong learning opportunity can take many forms. Here are a few examples:

  • A traditional ballad singer might travel to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland to explore the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library to learn about the Celtic origins of Appalachian songs. 
  • A potter might invest in developing a website for online commerce for their work. 
  • An herbal forager might attend the virtual (online) Southern Foodways Alliance convening or Appalachian Food Summit.
  • An indigenous basketmaker might travel to California to attend the annual California Indian Basketweavers’ Association annual gathering to learn about western Native American basketry traditions.  
  • An instrument maker might acquire new equipment to expand their repertoire as a luthier. 

Ultimately, each of the fellows has the freedom to determine their own lifelong learning opportunity—on their own or, if they wish, with assistance as requested of a South Arts staff member, folklorist, or community scholar. Fellows must agree to participate in an in-person or distanced site visit from South Arts staff that will include documentation (recorded interview and photographs) about their art and lifelong learning experience resulting from their fellowship award. Funding has limited restrictions, and Fellows are not required to submit a final report, produce a commissioned work, or engage in any public program.  

Important Dates & Deadlines

  • Applications open: November 9, 2020
  • Deadline: 11:59 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021 (please note, this has been extended)

Eligibility Requirements

To be considered for this grant, the applicant must:

  • Be an individual folk or traditional artist.
  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Be a United States citizen, lawfully admitted to the U.S. for permanent residence, or have permission from the Department of Homeland Security to work permanently in the U.S.
  • Have been a resident in a Kentucky, North Carolina, or Tennessee Appalachian Regional Commission county (see the "Eligible Counties" tab in the Program Guidelines section below) for a period of at least two years immediately before the application deadline.
  • Cannot be a full-time high school or undergraduate student.
  • Expect to maintain residency in their current state of residence during the Fellowship award year.
  • Submit a complete and accurate application.

I was so thankful for the opportunity, it exceeded my expectations for sure. It’s neat to go and meet and play with your heroes, but it’s really special when it turns into a nice connection and great friendship.

Matt Downer, 2019 Folk & Traditional Arts Fellow

Program Guidelines

Applications for the 2021 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowships are open November 9, 2020 through February 15, 2021 (please note, this deadline has been extended).

Application Process

Applications can be completed and submitted either by the applicant (traditional artist) or on their behalf by a nominator (family or community member). The components of the application are as follows:

  1. Application Form
  2. Essay Questions
  3. Work Samples
  4. Support Materials
Application Form

Applications will be open from November 9, 2020 through February 15, 2021 (please note, this deadline has been extended). The application must be signed and dated by the artist.

Visit the application portal section below these guidelines during this timeframe to access the application.

Personal Information

As part of the application form, you will be asked, but not required to include personal information such as contact information, birth year, birthplace, gender identity, and race/ethnicity. Demographic information is for South Arts’ use only; this information will not be shared with the panelists. South Arts may share your contact information (only) with art professionals, such as curators and journalists who wish to be in direct contact with you, as requested. 

Applicants may be asked to submit a copy of their official state I.D./driver’s license as proof of residency later in the process, in order to confirm eligibility. 

Essay Questions

Applicants must respond to the following prompts: 

  • Tell us about the traditional art form you practice. Please explain the process, materials used, and/or instruments and tools involved.  
  • Describe how you learned your art form. When did you start? From whom did you learn? By what methods did you learn? 
  • Why is your art important to you, your family, and/or community? Is this art form commonly practiced by you and others in your community? If so, where, when, and by whom? If not, explain why there are not many practitioners and why it is not commonly practiced. 
  • Tell us about the life-long learning opportunity you wish to pursue and why.
Work Samples

Work samples will be used to evaluate artistic merit or quality of cultural achievement.

  • Photographs: Submit up to ten clearly labeled high resolution images of the applicant’s work. Acceptable file formats include .jpeg and .pdf. Printed images are also acceptable.
  • Audio Recordings: If applicable, submit up to three examples of the applicant’s work. While .mp3 is recommended, all standard file formats are acceptable. Hard copies may be sent via CD or thumb-drive.
  • Video Recordings: If applicable, submit up to three examples of the applicant’s work. Publicly accessible URL links to YouTube, Vimeo, or other internet sources are acceptable, or hard copies can be sent via CD, DVD, or thumb-drive.
  • Other: If your work samples must be submitted in another format, please contact us to discuss options.
Support Materials (optional)

Support materials are optional, but strongly encouraged. These materials may be letters of support, newspaper articles, flyers or other supplemental materials. These can be submitted as .pdf files or hardcopies. Please, submit no more than five documents.

Eligible Counties

You must be a current, legal resident of one of the following counties for a period of two years prior to the application due date:

  • Kentucky: Adair, Bath, Bell, Boyd, Breathitt, Carter, Casey, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Edmonson, Elliott, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Garrard, Green, Greenup, Harlan, Hart, Jackson, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, McCreary, Madison, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Metcalfe, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Powell, Pulaski, Robertson, Rockcastle, Rowan, Russell, Wayne, Whitley, and Wolfe.
  • Tennessee: Anderson, Bledsoe, Blount, Bradley, Campbell, Cannon, Carter, Claiborne, Clay, Cocke, Coffee, Cumberland, De Kalb, Fentress, Franklin, Grainger, Greene, Grundy, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hawkins, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Lawrence, Lewis, Loudon, McMinn, Macon, Marion, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Overton, Pickett, Polk, Putnam, Rhea, Roane, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Smith, Sullivan, Unicoi, Union, Van Buren, Warren, Washington, and White.
  • North Carolina: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Davie, Forsyth, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, McDowell, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin, and Yancey.
Submission and Deadline

Completed applications, including work samples, may be submitted either electronically (by 11:59 p.m. EST) or physically via mail (postmarked) by February 15, 2021 (please note, this deadline has been extended).

Please note: When using the online application form, please utilize the ‘save and resume’ option at the bottom of each page to ensure your work has been saved.

Physical copies of the application may be requested, and should be mailed to:

Attn: Amy Howard
South Arts
1800 Peachtree St., NW
Suite 808
Atlanta, GA 30309

Review Process

Panelist Review

An anonymous panel consisting of folklorists and traditional and folk art specialists will conduct the review, evaluating each application by the criteria as follows:

  • Mastery of traditional art form, 25%
  • History of the applicant’s informal training or previous apprenticeship associated with their cultural community, 25%
  • Impact of the applicant’s work on their family/community and artistic tradition, 25%
  • Explanation of how funds will be used to pursue a lifelong learning opportunity, 25%

Award Notification

Applicants will receive notification of their award status by early February 2021. Up to fifteen Master Artist Fellowships will be awarded. The 2021 awards of $12,000 are to be used between March and December 2021.

Master Artist Fellowship recipients should note that the $12,000 in award money constitutes taxable income and must be filed as such. 

  • Application Open: November 9, 2020
  • Application Deadline: February 15, 2021 (11:59 p.m. ET)
    • Please note, this deadline has been extended
  • Fellowships Announced: February 2021

Application Requirements

Applications can be completed and submitted either by the applicant (traditional artist) or on their behalf by a nominator (family or community member). The components of the application are as follows:

  • Application Form
  • Essay Questions
  • Work Samples (files may be uploaded during the application process; art form requires work samples to be submitted in another format, please contact us to discuss options)
  • Support Materials


Discuss your application with Teresa Hollingsworth or Amy Howard of the Traditional Arts team.

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