A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dan Sheehy Honored with 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellowship

Photo by Ashlee Duncan, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Earlier this month, the annual National Endowment for the Arts 2015 National Heritage Fellowship awards were announced. These awards were modeled on the Japanese Living Treasures Awards. They are the nation’s highest awards for excellence in the folk and traditional arts. Each year one individual is also honored for their role as the Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow, for an individual who plays an exemplary role as a cultural heritage advocate, dedicated to making the art of diverse artists more recognized and accessible. This year’s Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow is Dan Sheehy, someone who has helped contribute in many ways to the success of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program while at the NEA as the Director of the Folk and Traditional Arts Program and then at the Smithsonian as Director of Folkways and other programs. He is a most deserving recipient of this high honor. His impact at the NEA and the Smithsonian has been truly remarkable and has expanded the understanding and appreciation of expressive traditional culture of our country.

Here is part of the formal biography and tribute to Dan Sheehy that was included with the announcement of the honor:

"A native of Bakersfield, California and longtime resident of Virginia, Sheehy was recruited by Bess Lomax Hawes in 1974 to do groundbreaking field research among Mexican American musicians in California for the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival marking our nation’s Bicentennial.  He later was a Fulbright-Hays scholar in Veracruz, Mexico, earning his PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles.  He joined the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978, working side-by-side with Lomax Hawes, who became his longtime mentor. He was instrumental in developing and sustaining the infrastructure of the folk and traditional arts field and served as director of folk and traditional arts at the NEA from 1992 to 2000. 
In 2000 Sheehy became director and curator of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution. Under his leadership, Smithsonian Folkways has published more than 200 recordings, earning five Grammy awards, one Latin Grammy, and 17 nominations.  Special initiatives have included the ten-volume Music of Central Asia, the African American Legacy series co-sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Tradiciones/Traditions series of signature music from Latin America and Latino USA.  Sheehy also launched the ten-year Nuestra Músicaproject with co-curator Olivia Cadaval, producing six "living exhibitions" of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  He has also served as acting director of the Smithsonian Latino Center and director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.” 

For the full citation and a Smithsonian tribute,  click here and here.

The deepening understanding of the rich and diverse living cultural life in our democracy is being fostered by advocates and educators like Dan Sheehy. He is but one of many who have dedicated their lives to building a more inclusive understanding of our nation. His contribution, and those of others like him, deserve our attention and  heartfelt appreciation.

C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D. Curator of Cultural Heritage MSU Museum