Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers.... The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources – because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.


America’s artistic and cultural diversity is a powerful testament to the vibrant interplay of creativity, tradition, and innovation alive in our communities. It speaks to the treasured principles of cultural democracy that characterize this nation and the shared humanity that links us all.

Every year since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded National Heritage Fellowships to a broad array of extraordinary artists in recognition of their artistic excellence and their valuable contributions to America’s diverse cultural heritage. To date, more than 400 individuals and groups from every region of the country have received the nation’s highest honor for excellence in the folk and traditional arts: Navajo basket makers, Irish American fiddlers, African American quilters, Mexican American accordionists, Appalachian storytellers, Cambodian American dancers, an Iraqi American oud player, and many more.

These artists are not only great masters of their tradition. They are teachers, mentors, innovators, and advocates who have worked tirelessly to sustain and share the cherished cultures of their communities, fostering pride, recognition, and respect; building cultural bridges; bringing people together.

Take a cultural journey across the United States. Discover inspiring stories of the American experience and the beautiful diversity of communities and artistic expressions that enrich our nation.

Produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and Esri