Folk and Traditional Arts — A Perspective

Mar 24 · 3 min read

By Roy Hirabayashi, co-founder of San Jose Taiko and a leader in our local arts community.

What are folk and traditional arts? The definition can vary from where you live and the cultural community in your neighborhood. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has the following description:

“The folk and traditional arts, which include crafts, dance, music, oral traditions, visual arts, and others, are those that are learned as part of the cultural life of a community whose members share a common ethnic heritage, cultural mores, language, religion, occupation, or geographic region.”

The Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) states that California is a “leading creative and cultural capital in the world. With 1 in 4 Californians identifying as first-generation immigrants, our state is at the forefront of the country’s shift toward racial and ethnic plurality.” ACTA also states that their partnering traditional artists are “tradition-bearers in their communities, contributing what they believe, know, do, and create with others who share a common heritage, language, religion, occupation, or region.”

Traditional art draws from ceremony, celebration, and community. These are important for passing on the cultural values in our ethnic communities from generation to generation. The richness of our neighborhoods is the displaying and sharing of the traditional arts in the community.

It is essential to understand that traditional art is not a static form and never changes. Like any other art form, it is a creative process; however, the inspiration comes from tradition, history, and community practice. It can change and expand as the artist explores their roots and the communities in which they live. Many of our traditional artists and teachers are immigrants. It is of the highest importance to protect and preserve these tradition-bearers, teachers, and artists in our community. Traditional artists are often overlooked and ignored in the funding world because they are not known or understood. Our world and community would be a better place if we could better understand our immigrant communities’ cultural roots, practices, and arts.

We can all live in a safer and vibrant community by accepting and celebrating those who have other languages, foods, religions, clothing, cultural values, ceremonies, music, dance, art, and customs. We can learn to be more respectful of others who look and act differently from ourselves.

We can all be tradition-bearers. What we do today can become the roots of traditional arts tomorrow.

Roy is a leader in North American taiko and a Northern California leader in the arts community known for starting organizations, fiscal management, fundraising, and empowering the next generation of leaders. He is co-founder of one of the seminal taiko groups in North America, San Jose Taiko, and the group’s former Artistic and Executive Director. Roy is also a co-founder and current director of the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute at the School of Arts & Culture in San Jose. He has been active in developing San Jose’s Japantown and arts community, and has been a champion for social justice, multicultural arts, and cultural preservation. He is past chair of the board of the Japantown Community Congress San Jose and of the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza. As a nationally recognized folk and traditional artist, composer, producer, and collaborator in international projects, he is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow and an American Leadership Forum John W. Gardner Leadership awardee. He is currently on the board of SVCREATES.

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