Culture by California

NEA celebrates two Golden State artists with National Heritage Fellowships

Folk and traditional artists Marion Coleman and Ofelia Esparza, California recipients of the 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellowships. Left photo by Nyls Jongewaard; right photo by Mark Markley, courtesy of Craft in America.

California has long been a harbor for creative thinkers and a haven for cultural diversity. It’s no wonder, then, that not one but two of this year’s nine National Heritage Fellows being honored by the National Endowment for the Arts — an award developed to recognize individuals possessing both of those aforementioned traits — call our state home.

Castro Valley’s Marion Coleman and Los Angeles’ Ofelia Esparza will receive a $25,000 award and be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony and concert in late September, both no-cost public events.

Marion Coleman’s skilled quilt making pieces together family tradition and African-American heritage with modern mixed-media and digital art forms, transforming her work into unique storytelling devices depicting African-American history and culture, social justice, and women and aging.

Chicana altar maker Ofelia Esparza pays homage through her art to the memories of people, events, or places, embellishing multilevel structures with photos, food, flowers, and handmade and found items.

Amy Kitchener, executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, the California Arts Council’s statewide partner for folk and traditional arts, commended both recipients.

“It has been a great privilege to work with both of these visionary artists at the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, where they have shared their skills and knowledge as master artists in our statewide Apprenticeship Program which supports an intensive period of learning with a dedicated apprentice carrying forward their inspiration to the next generation. This award shares their inspiring histories and art on the national stage and also affirms the relevance, beauty, and creativity that emanates from African-American cultures in the East Bay and from Chicano East L.A.,” she said.

Forty-five California artists and culture bearers have been recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowship since its start in 1982.

For the full announcement, including the list of all of California’s NEA National Heritage Fellows, click here.