Cultural Windows Photo Essay: NEA’s Cliff Murphy On Art And Culture

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People Are Culture's Cultural Windows Photo Essays are companion pieces to our People Are Culture podcast series. These bite-size glimpses of cultural landscapes and traditions offer provocative snapshots and soundbites that inspire. Enjoy!

Here we present observations on art and culture from Cliff Murphy, Director of Folk & Traditional Arts at the National Endowment for the Arts. Cliff's insightful quotes are paired with a selection of images from NEA programs nationwide.

Founded in 1965, the NEA provides federal funding to arts agencies to foster American creativity. They are currently accepting nominations for their National Heritage Fellowship, which honors lifelong commitment to arts heritage. You can listen to our whole conversation with Cliff, with more information on fellowship nominations, here!

Cultural Windows Photo Essay: Cliff Murphy on Art and Culture

Photo: Andrew Pielage / Courtesy of NEA

“Culture emerges from deliberate action and it emerges from chaos.”


Photo: Tom Pich / Courtesy of NEA

“The folk and traditional arts are rooted in and reflective of the cultural life of a community.“


Photo: L. E. McCullough / Courtesy of NEA

“There are entire traditions that have arrived here and blossomed in exciting ways.”


Photo: Tom Pich / Courtesy of NEA

“One way of fueling creativity is using traditional arts as an entry point that can lead in a lot of different directions. But it’s rooted in tradition.”


Photo: NEA

“There are different mediums and different generations that emerge as interesting vehicles for sharing stories.”


Image: Chris Brandt / Courtesy of NEA

“The Vermont Folklife Center has been training people to do cartooning that can be used as a way of sharing our stories from communities that might be hard to access or who might be vulnerable in different ways.”


Photo: Tom Pich / Courtesy of NEA

“In Texas, you know, there’s a great program called The Big Squeeze, which is a competitive accordion program that really hits upon three different broad strains of accordion-based cultural traditions in Texas. You have a sizable Eastern European Polka accordion tradition. You have Tejano Conjunto accordion-based traditions. And then you have Cajun Zydeco traditions which are a part of that New Orleans and Louisiana diaspora.”


Photo: SPARC / Courtesy of NEA

“The New Jersey Folklife Program has started an initiative to bring artists into the homes of people that can’t get out, of the elderly, to really use that as a way of improving quality of life for the residents of the state.”


Photo: Tom Pich / Courtesy of NEA

“Elders are such a significant part of tradition. They’re the people who have great wisdom. I think that different cultural communities know this in their own way.”


Photo: PA'I Foundation & NEA

“Culture is what gives us a sense of connection to other people, to our past, to our present, to our future.”


Photo: Tom Pich / Courtesy of NEA

“You are learning about more than just the artform. You are learning about life. You are learning about the artform in the context of life.”


Photo: Tom Pich / Courtesy of NEA

“Anybody can nominate a National Heritage Fellow and the ability of someone to receive a National Heritage Fellowship is greatly improved by a very strong nomination package which will include letters of support from community members…. The fellowships recognize artistic excellence, lifetime achievement, and contributions to our nation's traditional arts heritage.”


Photo: Young Audiences WNY & NEA

“Culture is what gives us a sense of connection. It’s what makes us a neighborhood. Paradoxically it's also what makes us distinct"


Photo: Niesha Zeigler / Courtesy of Dance Place & NEA

"We are all endowed with culture. How can you visit culture in your own local area?  Who and what are you not seeing & acknowledging that is right in front of you?"

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