Courtesy of Devendra Sharma
Devendra Sharma and ensemble | Courtesy of Devendra Sharma

The Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions announced the 2021 awards in the disciplines of folk and traditional arts. This year’s commissions will support 10 master artists to develop and premiere major new works in partnership with Bay Area nonprofit organizations. According to the announcement, “These awards represent the largest single infusion of support into the vibrant, yet underfunded, area of folk and traditional arts commissions.”

Emiko Ono, director of Hewlett’s Performing Arts Program said about this year’s commissions, “Folk and traditional arts have too often been unfunded, underfunded, and overlooked in this country. It means a lot that the Hewlett Foundation made the decision back in 2017 to include the folk and traditional arts among the five artistic disciplines we’re supporting with the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions.” The other award areas in the revolving five-year cycle are music composition; dance and movement-based performance; theater, spoken word, and musical theater; and coming in 2022, media arts.


Emiko Ono
Emiko Ono directs Hewlett’s performing arts program

A press release states, “While the awards are rooted in the experiences of communities in and around the Bay Area, their significance extends far beyond it. Many of the commissions involve extended periods of international travel and field research, and will represent cultural milestones.” Among the more intriguing commissions are those that will support the first-ever American presentation of a two-day Tibetan opera in the Ache Lhamo tradition, as well as the largest Indian Nautanki folk opera ever staged in the United States.

Mahsa Vahdat
Mahsa Vahdat | Credit: Tahmine Monzavi

Many of the artist tapped for commissions this year have been the subject of SFCV stories, including Iranian singer and musician Mahsa Vahdat, featured in a 2020 Artist Spotlight. She talked about the importance of the receiving the commission:

I am so honored to receive this prestigious award. It gives me a unique opportunity to develop my project, “Woven Verses: Poetic Resilience and Resistance,” in a profound way with my fantastic collaborators — my sister Marjan Vahdat, Atabak Elyasi, and other fantastic musicians — and share it with the Bay Area community and the world.

It gives me the opportunity to return to the classical and contemporary Persian poetic treasury that speaks to human beings so deeply, free from time and place. I have grown up and remained involved with the treasury my whole life, and in this project, I can explore and develop these texts from another perspective to make a deep dialogue between the past and present and reflect their wisdom, passion, and beauty through an interwoven musical and poetic expression. I am looking forward to this journey and to sharing the process of creation with the Bay Area community in workshops.

I am also looking forward to showing an important part of Iranian culture to those who are concerned with women’s voices and respect for other cultures – those who are curious to know more about the parts of Iranian and Persian culture that are hidden to the world and American society.”

Faye Carol
Faye Carol | Courtesy of Faye Carol

Faye Carol is another grant recipient featured in SFCV’s digital pages. As Carol puts it, “Having my work recognized and supported by an award of the magnitude and prestige of the Hewlett 50 Commission is an immeasurable honor. The commission will support the realization of my wildest dreams as an artist and allow the community — in particular my own Black community in the Bay Area — to partake in this vital art and bring the music out of history and into everyday life.”

Here are is the roster of 2021 recipients and their projects:

  • Brazilian American capoeira master and teacher Marcia Treidler will work with ABADÁ-Capoeira San Francisco to stage Cigarra, a performance about pioneering women in Brazilian traditional arts.

  • African American blues and jazz vocalist The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol teams up with Art + Soul Oakland on Blues, Baroque, and Bars: From the Streets to the Symphony, a work about Black Americans and their journey from Africa to the Great Migration.

  • Iranian singer and musician Mahsa Vahdat and the Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music will present Woven Verses: Poetic Resistance and Resilience, a work set to classical and contemporary Persian texts.

  • Tibetan American musician, dancer, and Tibetan opera singer Tsering Wangmo joins forces with Chaksam-pa to create Celebration of the Great Shoton Festival of Tibet in the Bay Area, which reimagines a traditional Tibetan opera.

  • The seventh-generation Nautanki opera performer, writer, director, and guru Devendra Sharma will work with the Devendra Sharma Nautanki Folk Opera Ensemble to stage Princess Nautanki, the largest Indian Nautanki folk opera ever staged in the U.S.

  •  Afro-Cuban choreographer Susana Arenas Pedroso collaborates with Dance Brigade on Raíces et Révolution, a dance performance about Cuba and Guinea’s cultural and political relationships.

  • Ghanaian American choreographer and master drummer CK Ladzekpo works with East Bay Center for the Performing Arts to offer Hogbetsoto — Day of Crossing Over, a piece commemorating the Anlo-Ewe people’s historic flight to freedom in Ghana.

  • Cambodian American dancer/choreographer and culture bearer Charya Burt and Musical Traditions will stage The Rebirth of Apsara, a dance-theater piece about the history of Cambodian arts.

  • Native American (Tongva/Acjachemen/Raramuri) artist L. Frank Manriquez and the Queer Cultural Center build together on Eyoomkuuka’ro Kokomaar, the creation of a traditional ti’aat plank canoe.
  • Composer and Vietnamese master traditional artist Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ and the Vietnamese American Nongovernmental Organization Network will present Mekong: Life, a multimedia work exploring how environmental change has shaped Southeast Asian cultures.
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ | Credit: Christine Jade

More information on the program and on each project can be found at the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions website.