Mission/Major Programs

Our Mission

The National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the presentation and documentation of folk and traditional arts in the United States. Founded in 1933, it is the nation’s oldest producing and presenting organization with such a focus. Its programs celebrate and honor deeply rooted cultural expressions—music, dance, crafts, rituals and stories passed on through time in families, communities, and tribal, ethnic, regional and occupational groups. Traditional arts have proven to be a force for cultural cohesion and social understanding in the complex, culturally diverse communities of our nation. In the 21st century, this force will be essential to our democratic society. These are the vibrant, living cultural treasures of the American people and, as such, will play a central role in the future health of all American communities.

The NCTA continually strives to expand awareness and appreciation of the richness of America’s multicultural, living heritage through exciting, thoughtfully curated live programs that create dynamic cultural encounters between artists and the public. These programs celebrate what we have in common, not what separates us. They are healing and exhilarating experiences that promote a deeper understanding of America’s collective identity, antidotes to the messages of distrust and fear that bombard us daily. Stressing excellence and traditionality, NCTA presents the nation’s very finest traditional artists in festivals, tours, international cultural exchange, workshops, demonstrations and exhibitions, media productions, school programs, and other activities. It works in partnership with communities across America to establish new, sustainable traditional arts events that deliver lasting social, cultural and economic benefits. The NCTA champions the interests of folk and traditional artists and organizations in the arena of public policy.

Our Values

The NCTA is committed to presenting those arts that collectively define us as a people, that represent continuity from the past to the present and into the future. It believes that bringing diverse grassroots artists of the highest caliber to the people of our nation and the world creates powerful, authentic cultural experiences that are transformative, fostering cultural understanding and strengthening civil society. The NCTA’s community collaborations are exercises in cultural democracy, and demonstrate the organization’s commitment to working at the grassroots level in its many endeavors.

Major Programs

Annually, the NCTA provides performance opportunities for 1,100+ traditional artists, and presents public programs that serve an estimated live audience of 720,000 that reach an additional 4.4 million through radio, television and recordings. These programs conservatively generate $80 million of economic activity in communities around the nation.

The National Folk Festival – First presented in 1934, the National Folk Festival is the oldest multi-cultural festival in the nation. This traveling free event, which relocates on a three-year cycle, showcases the nation’s finest traditional artists, and attracts audiences of over 150,000. Working collaboratively with festival host communities, this “movable feast” of traditional arts has, in recent decades, been the catalyst in creating successful and sustainable new festivals in Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maine, Virginia and Montana.

Partner Festivals – The NCTA continues to partner with a number of former National Folk Festival host cities in the presentation of four major successor festivals, all of them free events: Lowell Folk Festival (Lowell, MA); Richmond Folk Festival, (Richmond, VA); and the Montana Folk Festival (Butte, MT), each with an annual attendance in the range of 150,000-200,000.

NCTA Tours – The first to tour authentic folk artists, the NCTA has organized 57 national performing arts tours of astonishing diversity since beginning this work in 1978.  Among them are:

For a full list with descriptions and dates please [Click Here] 

National Parks – For the past 40 years, through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service (NPS), the NCTA has assisted parks across the country with the research, development and production of cultural programs, exhibits and other special projects. Currently, the NCTA works with five parks, including the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, an NPS interpretive and performance facility in the Blue Ridge Mountains created to honor the rich, living musical traditions of Appalachia.

The NCTA Archive – The NCTA audio archive contains over 8,000 hours (and growing) of precious field and live event recordings dating from the 1930s. A multi-year project to preserve and digitize the entire collection is underway; significant portions of preserved collection materials are now housed at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

NEA National Heritage Fellowships – The National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship is the highest honor our nation bestows upon its folk and traditional artists. Since 1983, the NCTA has organized the annual week of NEA National Heritage Fellowships’ activities in the nation’s capital region that honor these “national living treasures” and produced the culminating gala concert.

Maryland Programs – In partnership with Maryland Traditions, the folklife program of the Maryland State Arts Council, the NCTA produces the annual Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival, the Achievements in Living Traditions and Arts (ALTA) Awards ceremony, and is working to bring the state’s master traditional artists into schools, among other projects.

Services to Artists – The NCTA is committed to bridge building between highly deserving traditional artists and the general public.  The artists served during decades of festival and touring work have frequently been disadvantaged by minority, ethnic or regional status, or language barriers. Often as a result of initial participation in an NCTA-produced event, significant new opportunities for performing present themselves to these artists. The NCTA assists traditional artists through a variety of means to take advantage of such opportunities.

Services to the Field –Located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the NCTA has long provided services to a variety of federal agencies and other national institutions.  It works to foster policymakers’ appreciation and understanding of the folk and traditional arts.