The Washington State Heritage Arts Apprenticeship Program supports individuals interested in learning a traditional trade, craft, or skill. It encourages communities to carry on cultural traditions important to their heritage and identity. These traditions include skills and techniques related to occupational arts, storytelling and other verbal arts, dance, culinary traditions, music, and much more.
In addition to supporting the transmission of cultural knowledge, the Apprenticeship Program also teaches important job skills and acts, in part, as an economic development tool.
Learn more about the Heritage Arts Apprenticeship Program here.
The 15 teams selected for the 2020-2021 year feature a wide range of traditions (from Mexican folk music styles to Nordic Lapstrake boat-building) and great cultural and geographic diversity. Please read about the newest cohort below.
2020-2021 HAAP Teams
Master: Afua Kouyate (Seattle)
Afua Kouyate is an African American woman with ancestral roots in West Africa. She began dancing at the age of eight and states that both cultural education and African Dance is central to the core of who she is.
She has been a part of annual African American celebrations within Pacific Northwest communities, honoring her commitment to providing youth and families with access to their cultural rights. Afua is an integral part of keeping cultural arts and entertainment vibrant in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, and has taught this tradition at over fifty establishments.
Apprentice: Akua Kariamu (Renton)
Akua Kariamu has wanted to dance since she was young, and states that her spirit and soul communicate to her that this is what she should be doing. She believes it is important to learn as much as she can about traditional African dance and culture because there is a legacy to pass down, and it is important that those in the community see this culture performed and taught.
“A Sankofa Dance Project: Reaching back to fetch cultural dance in celebration!” will be a collected story of dance celebrations from community members within the West African diaspora. Through this apprenticeship program, Akua Kariamu will study African dance with Afua Kouyate.
Abel Rocha Teaches Mexican Folk Music Styles
Master: Abel Rocha Gonzalez (Seattle)
Gonzalez’s father introduced him to his main instrument: voice. Around this time, he began informally learning the popular Mexican repertoire of corridos, ballads, and huapangos. His uncle had a career in music and taught him songs and beginning-level guitar; his aunt provided him with his first recordings of Argentinian folk music along with a bombo leguero. Gonzalez’ began learning the strumming patterns of the guitar in the 1970s with a member of Los Folkloristas, and later worked with an ethnomusicologist in the 1980s with a group dedicated to Mexican folklore styles. He began teaching government-funded workshops of Latin American music in the 1980s and performed music in Mexico until 1993, when he came to the United States and settled in Texas before moving to Washington in 2001. He is one of the co-founders of the Seattle Fandango Project, devoted to the practice of fandango in the son jarocho style.
Apprentice: August Denhard (Seattle)
Denhard was trained in classical music, first on the tuba for orchestral music and then on the lute for early music as a doctoral student. He has been informally collaborating with Trio Guadalevin, where he has developed skills and appreciation for Latin American music.
Tradition: Earlier in life, Abel Rocha Gonzalez was part of a community of artists in Mexico City that raised awareness of the importance of traditional folk music. His understanding of this cultural tradition grew as he traveled across Mexico and Latin America, learning the roots of the music. Important aspects of particularly significant Mexican cultural events like Dia de los Muertos, Carnival, weddings, and funerals are expressed in music, dance, and fiesta. Music is interactive; it is most often made in a community context. According to Gonzalez, folk music and traditions of the Americas are a complex tapestry of affinities, differences, and similarities.
Becoming a Txiv Qeej: The Preservation and Revitalization of Traditional Hmong Qeej
Master: Yee Xiong (Duvall)
Xiong began learning how to play the qeej at the age of twelve after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 – in Xiong’s home in northern Laos, children could not attend school due to the aftermath of the war.
His first Qeej Master was his oldest sister’s father-in-law; Xiong watched and listened to his playing, memorizing the sounds and movements until he could perform the Ntiv Qeej (Queej Notes) and Zaj Qeej (Qeej Songs) himself. His second Master was his own grandfather, who introduced him to Qeej Txias (Deceased Qeej), a culturally significant practice of complex and ritualized songs played on the qeej during funerals, the third and highest level of qeej playing.
“Because of its cultural significance,” Xiong states, “I first had to learn the ceremonial process and procedures for a funeral service,” including body movements, qeej swings, and harmonization with funeral drums. Xiong’s other grandfather became his third Master. With him, Xiong learned Qeej Tu Slab (Qeej Passing), the first set of the six Qeej Txias songs. These songs are played for the deceased, and their lyrics are considered to hold great power. Because of this, these songs cannot be played in the house of the living. This set of songs provides passage for the soul’s travel to the spirit world. According to Xiong, this is a very long musical piece that can last three hours to as many days as required to pay tribute to the age and status of the deceased.
Learning these traditional funeral rite songs by heart marked the beginning of Yee Xiong’s status as a Txiv Qeej. Now, he conducts a weekly beginners qeej class with students ranging from eight to twelve.
During his teaching, Xiong noticed that this generation’s way of learning is different from his, as well as the styles of previous generations of qeej players. While qeej was traditionally learned by listening to their Masters, new students are more familiar with written forms of learning. Xiong found that there were no written notes and began creating his own qeej notes sheets for his students. These note sheets serve as a guide for students when they don’t remember the note or finger positions, retaining the primary tradition of learning through listening and watching a Master.
Xiong has been a Txiv Qeej (Qeej Master) for 45 years and has served Hmong communities with funeral rites and celebration performances for 35 years. He is also a qeej teacher, and has been teaching children how to play songs and perform dances for the Hmong New Year in Seattle for 10 years.
Apprentice: Yeng Xiong (Snohomish)
Yeng Xiong has seen qeej performances throughout his life as part of three-days and two-nights Hmong funeral ceremonies. He began to research qeej history, playing, and cultural significance at 35. His grandfather taught him a Courting Qeej song by word only, sparking an interest and passion in him that spurred him to seek training with Master Yee Xiong. Yeng Xiong hopes to connect younger Hmong people with the qeej, teaching them to revive qeej playing with a learning method that younger generations understand more.
Tradition: Hmong qeej (pronounced “kheng”) is steeped in generations-old cultural, spiritual, and artistic traditions. The qeej instrument has a significant role in Hmong culture and is a symbol that represents the Hmong people at large. Yee Xiong states that “any Hmong person around the world who sees a qeej will recognize it as ‘Hmong’.” It is intimately connected to Hmong language: it is a bamboo mouth organ that, when the player creates different musical tones, corresponds to spoken Hmong words.
Hebrew Calligraphy, Lettering and Illumination as a Force for Jewish Cultural Resilience
Master: Rainer Waldman Adkins (Seattle)
Adkins is self-taught in Hebrew calligraphy, lettering, and other Jewish artistic traditions. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington. Beyond these accolades, his skills are self-acquired, partially due to the past isolation of Seattle from major Jewish cultures.
He was raised with a strong sense of Jewish identity in a politically activist artistic household, with connections always being made between heritage, visual and other forms of art, and work for justice. When he was asked to make a ketubah (calligraphed and decorated marriage vows) for a friend’s wedding, he became determined to pursue self-directed intensive study of Hebrew calligraphy, document illumination, and Jewish art history. He has taught since 1980.
Apprentice: Michelle Yanow (Seattle)
Yanow self-taught Western calligraphy in her teens and has a Bachelor of Arts in studio art (painting). She grew up culturally Jewish but not religious. When she moved to Seattle in her 20s and was welcomed by jewish community there, she became more interested in understanding and participating in rituals and traditions. She now has decades of work in Jewish education, engagement, and cultural arts, and feels compelled to continue her own self-education of Jewish traditions in the form of Hebrew calligraphy.
In Hebrew, calligraphy is called k’tivah tamah, meaning ‘miraculous writing’. Sofrut (scribal traditions) and illuminations have been integral to Jewish spiritual and cultural expression and the resilience of Jewish communities for centuries; they represent not only the long history of Judaism, but calligraphy and illustrations could also be carried across borders in haste in times of terror.
Parallel to the crafting of Torah scrolls and other sacred objects, storytelling reflects the enormous role of Hebrew letters in Jewish life: in stories, they exist before Creation. Place is important in the context of this apprenticeship: Seattle is the home of the ‘Women’s Torah’, the first Torah scroll made by a collective of women from around the world.
Khmer Traditional Music
Master: Dara Vann (Auburn)
Vann learned his craft by ear from his older brother when he was a teenager in Srok Songkiaeng Keit, Battambang Koom Long Veell.
From 1975—1979, nearly a quarter million of the Khmer population was killed; of his family members, only Vann and his two older sisters were able to escape and thus survive. He now teaches children and has a family band with his wife and close family friends. By doing so, Vann ensures that Khmer is deep and meaningful all the time in his life.
Apprentice: Vichet Ros (South Burien)
Ros has some experience working with Khmer instruments, including the roneat, a xylophone-like instrument that gives a sparked sound and similar tone. He has been playing the roneat for about a year.
The kemp is a traditional Khmer instrument played in wedding ceremonies, at New Year celebrations, and in other community events. It is an instrument with strings that are hit with thin, flexible bamboo sticks to create bright, high-pitched sounds.
Khmer traditional music has many different instruments playing in harmony and unison, so the kemp is one such piece of this harmony.
Legacy – Passing it Forward
Master: Kofi Anang (Seattle)
Anang grew up in Pakro, an eastern region of Ghana, to a family of farmers. During his childhood, they often played games that taught them about their cultural histories. He was also involved in many ceremonial events, including drumming, dancing, drama, and storytelling. Later, Anang became part of the first Ghana National Dance and Music Ensemble.
Now in the United States, Anang has taught African Drumming Ensemble at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle for 28 years.
Apprentice: Sanai Anang (Seattle)
Anang is a novice; he knows some stories and history, but wants to grasp what shaped his father’s life and the lives of his ancestors.
Tradition: Ghanaian dance, music, and folktales are significant for African Americans, allowing diasporic groups an opportunity to make a cultural reconnection to their Black Indigenous roots and providing a venue for healing intergenerational trauma. According to Kofi Anang, “to Ghanians, it brings to them their culture in another land. To African Americans, it brings culture that was lost during the Atlantic Slave Trade.”
Life Through Dancing
Master: Kammy Savann Ra (Auburn)
Ra’s father was the one who taught her about Robam and Khmer arts. In the Khmer language, talented people are called Selepak.
Apprentice: Allina Sokha Srey (Seattle)
Srey began dancing in 2019, and has learned many things about robam, performance, aligning with each other, and emotional expression through dance. This will continue through the study of dance with Ra.
Robam is known as the Royal Ballet. The cycle of life is expressed through four hand gestures used during roban: a tree, a leaf, a flower, and a fruit.
In particular, Robam Tep Monorom is a dance piece that welcomes kings and queens into the temple and pays respect to them. Robam is only performed for special occasions in the royal palace and at Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Because a quarter million of the Cambodian population was murdered from 1975—1979, it is particularly relevant that all folk and traditional dances tell a story. Sometimes these stories are about sadness and heartache; sometimes, though, they are just communicating a pure blessing.
Madhubani Painting – the Classical Visual Indian Art
Master: Deepti Agrawal (Bothell)
Agrawal was raised in Bihar, the state in India where Madhubani painting originated and is practiced the most. Her mother started a nonprofit organization where she trained underprivileged women in Madhubani skills so that they might be able to sell art and become financially independent.
Agrawal volunteered at her mother’s nonprofit organization, teaching younger girls through classes and workshops. In 2010, she moved to Minnesota and began teaching classes for kids at an Indian cultural center. She has also developed self-paced and interactive online courses, beginning full-fledged classes in Seattle in 2014.
Apprentice: Nikita Sobby Thakalath (Bothell)
Thakalath has always been interested in different mediums of art, but has not yet been able to pursue folk art. She has been participating in Deepti’s workshops on and off, but is now delving deeper into her cultural roots and rich heritage.
Madhubani painting is a prehistoric visual art style that originated in what is now modern-day Mithila.
It dates back to an important era in Hindu mythology, and was originally practiced by women on freshly-plastered mud walls and floors of their homes after every monsoon season. The women used twigs and natural dyes, passed down through generations of women, to create art that often depicts Hindu deities, social and religious scenes, and contexts from scriptures.
Some modern-day artists are using Madhubani painting to address and spread awareness about social issues. The versatile nature of this art form makes it easy to blend with any contemporary, diverse, Indian, or international visual art form.
Master: Vidyalakshmi Vinod (Redmond)
Born in Chennai, India, Vinod began learning the Bharatanatyam at a local dance school when she was four years old. As she grew older, her family enrolled her with a renowned dancer, Padmashri Chitra Visweswaran, for further training. Vinod started teaching alongside her from the age of 16; she did this for six years before moving to Seattle in 2001 and starting her own school.
Here, she founded Nrityalaya Dance in 2002 to teach students in the greater Seattle area.
Apprentice: Sidhya Ganesh (Bellevue)
Ganesh has been learning dance at Nrityalaya Dance for seven years and has a natural talent for the art form, is passionate about dance, and has learned pieces revolving around both Nritta and Abhinaya.
Bharatanatyam is one of the eight primary classical dance forms of India; it is an ancient form of art that has been passed down over many centuries. It requires many years of rigorous training under the tutelage of a teacher, taking the form of a guru shishya parampara (guru is a teacher; shishya is a disciple).
This dance is traditionally associated with spirituality and discipline. It contains distinct aspects like Abhinaya (expressions) and Nritta (pure dance or movements) that help dancers communicate aspects of religious stories.
Master: Aaron Paul Whitefoot (Cayusm) (Harrah)
When Whitefoot was a child, his father taught him about hunting, fishing, digging roots, and picking berries. After a while, he started teaching himself how to sew nets and make scaffolds to fish from. Later, he went to an all-Indian college in Kansas with a focus on the teaching of culture and tradition.
Apprentice: Chance Lee Abrams (White Swan)
Abrams has an interest in Yakama traditions, particularly hunting. He wants to learn varied ways to fish, hunt, and preserve meat in the traditional ways, with the goal of passing the knowledge to his friends, family, and future generations.
Tradition: Yakama Nation traditions involve digging roots, fishing with hoop nets, cutting and drying fish, hunting and cutting elk, making jerky, and cooking fry bread — all while exercising Indian rights. According to the Yakama, it is important that younger generations know that wealth is perceived based on how much one gives rather than what one takes.
Master: Ganesh Rajogopalan (Sammamish)
Rajogopalan began learning violin and singing under his father when he was three years old; he has been performing since he was seven. After years of practice, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Academy award by the President of India, the highest award in India for performing artists. Since 2015, he has been teaching at eSwara School of Music. In addition to his work at eSwara, he has held workshops and lecture demonstrations around the world.
Apprentice: Svadrut R Kukunooru (Sammamish)
Kukunooru has been a cellist for nine years, focusing mainly in Western classical music. He has been a part of local orchestras and has been volunteering his time with the Asha Foundation, playing cello in concerts that support educational needs for people who are poor and disabled in India. He began learning Carnatic music a year ago, having listened to it from a young age. Kukunooru hopes to not only continue the cultural traditions and customs of Carnatic music, but also to integrate the cello into the art form in a way that has not been done before.
Tradition: Indian Carnatic music can be traced back over five thousand years, passed down orally from Guru (teacher) to Sishya (student). This form of art involves improvisation, which is done in two basic forms: Ragas (melodies) and Talas (cyclic rhythm). Many instruments can be part of this musical tradition, including the violin, nadhaswaram, thavil, veena, mridangam, and more. Indian Carnatic music brings people together, communicating aspects of life and spirituality through music. As communities become more distanced, it is even more important to keep cultural traditions alive.
Traditional West African Drumming
Master: Thione Diop (Seattle)
Diop comes from a lineage of Griot drummers in Senegal, West Africa. Griots are oral historians, tradition-keepers, and storytellers of their culture. Like many drummers, he began learning traditional drums at an early age, making a point to learn the different rhythms of the villages where his friends lived as a form of communication. He has mastered the djembe (goblet-shaped hand-drum), sabar (hand-and-stick), tama (talking drum rhythms), and djun djun (big-barrel bass consisting of three different drums). He has toured nationally and internationally; recorded instructional DVDs, CDs, and music videos; and collaborated with many musicians and performing artists. He has taught group classes and individual lessons for about 20 years, teaching children in Pre-K as well as adults. He has been a visiting teacher artist at the University of Washington School of Music and the Smithsonian World Music Pedagogy program for 10 years.
Apprentice: Suzanne Simmons (Seattle)
Simmons grew up playing guitar, clarinet, piano, and dancing. She taught at her dance studio, My World Dance and Fitness, for 11 years, teaching all different lifeforms for children and adults. After she closed her studio, she decided to pursue African drums as a way to enhance her dancing and connect more with the tradition, learning history and significance of the drums with the intent of learning the stories they tell and sharing them with others.
Tradition: Drumming is a traditional art that is incorporated into daily life throughout Africa and the African diaspora. Drumming transmits and preserves the rich history and traditions of African culture, and plays a significant role in celebrations, religious practices, historical events, and the way communities relate to each other.
Understanding the Practice of Nordic Lapstrake Boat-building Techniques and Traditions from the Viking Age Through the 20th Century
Master: Friel Jay Smith (Anacortes)
Smith has researched and built Nordic lapstrake boats for 40 years, ever since his apprenticeship in 1977 to Nils Ulsetin at a small boat shop on a fjord in western Norway. He has made a living building and repairing boats with periodic travel and research in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to strengthen his understanding of Scandinavian culture, history, and traditions of boat-building. He has been giving lectures on Nordic lapstrake boat-building for 20 years, taught courses at several maritime schools, and established a small group of interested volunteers who learn Nordic lapstrake construction weekly.
Apprentice: John Owen Francis Sincevich (Port Hadlock)
John has experience with historic home, cabin, and barn restoration, and has an interest in learning the traditional ways of building Nordic boats with hand tools.
Tradition: Nordic boat building began with Iron Age rowing vessels, refined with the use of iron rivets, spikes, and tools. Shipwrights, blacksmiths and carvers established a shipbuilding and seafaring culture, affording them respect and recognition as a true art form. Wooden boats and boatbuilding were important to Nordic immigrants of the Puget Sound.
Vietnamese Dan Tranh
Master: Dr. Hai Viet Hong (Everett)
Dr. Hong studied the dan tranh — a stringed lap instrument — and Vietnamese traditional music with several Masters starting in 1991; he has been teaching it since 2003. He founded the nonprofit Huong Viet Performing Arts with the intent to promote, preserve, and popularize traditional Vietnamese music.
Apprentice: My Phuong Thai (Mukilteo)
Thai has played the dan tranh for four years. She has a desire to learn more about her culture, the instrument, and the difficult songs of the dan trahn; she hopes to be both a performer and teacher of Vietnamese dan tranh in the future.
Tradition: Vietnamese dan tranh (a kind of plucked zither similar to the Japanese koto or the Korean gayageum) dates back to the 11th century. The skills necessary to play the dan tranh require students to be patient and diligent according to ancestral teachings and values.
Waray-Waray (Nothing-Nothing) Language Preservation
Master: Evaline Taganna Romano (Seattle)
Evaline Romano grew up speaking Waray. Though she doesn’t have formal experience teaching the dialect, she has experience talking with those in her house and her family.
Apprentice: Evalynn Fae Taganna Romano (Seattle)
Evalynn Romano has been attempting to learn her mother’s native tongue since she was young, determined to speak Waray with her cousins and family during trips to the Philippines. She hopes to learn the language of her ancestors and the stories of her homeland that are told best in their native language.
Tradition: Waray, also known as Waray-Waray, is spoken by three million Filipinos, primarily in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. It is a dialect (sometimes seen as a language) that does not have as strong of a presence in the Pacific Northwest as Ilocano or Tagalog. The survival of the Waray is important in order to pass down culture and storytelling.