Wisconsin Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program Collection, 1984-1996



The Wisconsin Arts Board's Folk and Community Arts Specialist Richard March developed and coordinated the grants program and master-apprentice pairs during site visits to monitor apprenticeship activity.

Project History

For twelve years the Wisconsin Arts Board administered the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, which awarded grants up to $2,000 per annual grant cycle, for supplies, travel, and an honorarium to master artists interested in teaching their skills to apprentices.

The Program, one of several initiatives sponsored by the Folk Arts Division of the National Endowment for the Arts, aimed to help sustain rare and endangered traditional art forms by pairing master folk artists with apprentices. This effort in “cultural conservation” attempted to ensure that distinctive traditional skills continue to be practiced in the cultural groups who have cultivated them. The Program helped recognize and engage hundreds of exceptional traditional artists, including Gerald Hawpetoss, a 1992 National Heritage Fellowship recipient honored for his Menominee and Potawatomi regalia making.

From 1985 through 1996, almost 200 apprenticeship awards were given, in sums from $500 to $2,000, thus doubling or tripling the number of traditional practitioners in Wisconsin. While open to applicants of all cultural backgrounds, the Program emphasized the teaching of Woodland Indian traditions. On average about 10 grants were awarded annually and at least 75 percent of the recipients represented Wisconsin's Indian nations: Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Potawatomi, the six bands of Ojibwas, Oneidas, Potawatomis, and Stockbridge-Munsees.

The Program ended in 1996 when drastic cuts at the National Endowment for the Arts altered grant funding formulas for state arts agencies. From 2000 to 2002, Folk and Community Arts Specialist Richard March reinstated the Program, with WAB awarding about fifteen $1,500 grants using state gaming compact funds. Records from this later phase of the Program are not present in this or other collections at the Wisconsin Arts Board.