BESS LOMAX HAWES: At the Endowment when I was there, before there was a folk arts program, I met with music panels frequently to see what they were doing and also to just present that there was a folk music program going on ’Äì some in there, some not - and I kept saying,’Äù What would you do if the world's greatest sitar player wanted money for a concert?’Äù
And they said, ’ÄúWhat is that?’Äù Everyone one of them said, ’ÄúWhat is that?’Äù And when I said what it was, they said, ’ÄúWe don't do that.’Äù Just flat.
That's why the folk arts program began doing it, because nobody else would even think that it was there. They wouldn't recognize it. Nationally speaking, we had done something in the Endowment that no other program had really done. We had really scattered out our grants. So we could say we have funded x and y and z in South Dakota and everybody else was saying "Where is South Dakota?" True.
And so we were always trotted out for the purposes of impressing the Congress. And I tried to take full advantage of those occasions. And I did a little politicking myself as far as I could. I always tried to go see the governor when I was out on the road and that sort of thing.
She took a cue from Nancy Hanks who was one of the key chairs of the National Endowment for the Arts over the years. She was looking to set up a national network for a number of reasons. One, to reach all Americans, but also at the same time to get political support from all sectors of the United States for the National Endowment for the Arts. And I think Bess mentioned that so many times, I think she liked that and in both of those senses and worked very hard from the get go to develop professional people strategically placed around the country. Usually that meant in states, state arts agencies or other state agencies, some state wide organization that could support state wide work. This is one of the greatest successes of the folk arts program because I remember we came pretty close to 50 of the 56 American states and special jurisdictions, territories in the Pacific, Caribbean, and District of Columbia, and it was somebody actively working in all those places.
We decided to fund traditional activities within a community in the community, which is very different from bringing them to the folks arts festival on Washington or setting up tours at that time. Later on we did set up tours. But to begin with we wanted to see the material presented respectfully and in a proper way at home or at least close to home. We funded anything that seemed to present or define or ennoble activities that were known in that area and that had not been publicly presented or if they had been, they'd forgotten how to do it. People would often ask us to help them, for instance, Indian tribes, would say they would like to do, I don't know, a squash blossom dance or something again but they didn't have the regalia but nobody knew how it went except for one person and they would like to have that person teach everybody how to do the regalia. That's the kind of thing we looked for.