Iowa Arts Council - Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Contact: Matt Harris
Iowa Arts Council Administrator

Folk & Traditional Arts Program

Purpose & Services

The Iowa Arts Council's Folklife Program assists in documenting, preserving, presenting, and promoting the living traditional culture of all Iowans.

What are Folk and Traditional Arts?

Folklife or traditional art encompasses the everyday knowledge, art, and lore that are passed within communities through imitation, conversation, and practice. These are arts rooted in the cultural life of a community whose members share a common language, ethnic heritage, religion, occupation or geographic region. Our folklife changes as people change, as our environment changes, as new and established groups interact. Folklife includes forms as new as rap and as old as Asian Indian classical dance.

Folk and traditional arts do not include folk-inspired art, which is produced by individuals and groups who are not part of the cultural community that originally produced/created/developed the art form, even if the quality of the art is excellent. 

What is a Folk & Traditional Artist?

A folk and traditional artist actively practices, passes on, and preserves the living cultural traditions of the cultural community to which s/he belongs and is recognized and acknowledged as a folk & traditional artist by that group. 

Folklife in Iowa is incredibly varied. Traditional art forms as Halloween jokes and playground games, fish tales and auctioneering, polka music and Norwegian wood carving, Amish quilts and Amana wines, Lao dance and Somali henna, Iraqi ballads and Bosnian lace reflect the shared aesthetic of their cultural communities.

Folklife in Iowa is incredibly varied

from Meskwaki drumming, finger weaving, bead working and powwows to Norwegian hardanger embroidery, fiddling and lutefisk;

from African-American blues, rap, gospel music, soul food and preaching styles to Danish rödkal (red cabbage), folk dancing and old time music;

from Nuer hair braiding, drumming and dancing to Tai Dam and Lao weaving, dancing, music and phó (beef noodle and vegetable soup);

from farm fresh cinnamon rolls, Amish quilts and Amana wines to Bosnian kilim (rug) weaving and pita (a strudel-like dish),

from Somali sambusas (small, fried meat and vegetable pies) to Iraqi oud (Arabic lute) making and playing...