ACTA Welcomes 21 Master Artist-Apprentice Teams to its Apprenticeship Program
Since 1999, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts’ (ACTA’s) Apprenticeship Program has supported California’s cultural traditions with 206 contracts to outstanding folk and traditional artists. Now entering its eleventh cycle, ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program encourages the continuation of the state’s living cultural heritage by contracting exemplary master artists to offer intensive training to qualified apprentices. Each contract will support a period of concentrated learning between six to twelve months for individuals who demonstrate commitment to and talent for a specific artistic tradition. Contracts of $3,000 are made with California-based master artists to cover master artist’s fees, supplies, and travel. Participants work closely with ACTA staff to develop and document the apprenticeships, culminating in opportunities to publicly share results of the apprenticeship.
The 2011 Apprenticeship Program cohort of 43 artists reflects California’s breadth of cultural diversity and intergenerational learning, ranging from septuagenarian master artists to 11-year old apprentices, spanning from Plumas to San Diego Counties. Thriving traditions supported through these apprenticeships reflect indigenous California cultural practices including Miwok and Maidu basketry; distinctly American art forms such as breakdancing and African-American quilting; and art forms which have taken root in the United States hailing from regions such as Cuba, Tibet, Senegal, Scotland, Cambodia, Mexico, Vietnam, Trinidad and Tobago, Armenia, India, and China.
ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program is supported by the Fresno Arts Council; the Walter & Elise Haas Fund; The James Irvine Foundation; and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by the California Arts Council, the California Community Foundation, and The San Francisco Foundation.
The 21 statewide artist teams participating in the 2011 Apprenticeship Program are:
Master artist Jennifer Bates (Tuolumne) will conduct an apprenticeship with Jeri Scambler (Fair Oaks) in Miwok basketry. Jennifer, who has been weaving traditional Miwok baskets for over four decades, learned from many family members and tribal elders, including Julia Parker, Mable McKay, Dorothy Stanley, and Craig Bates. Jeri began weaving eight years ago, when she taught herself to weave pine needle baskets. During their apprenticeship, Jennifer will teach Jeri how to make a traditional het-ta-lu tray used to sift pounded acorn into flour. The lessons will cover the entire weaving process from beginning to end, including gathering and processing native materials (sedge root, red bud, and deer grass).
Master artist Charya Burt (Windsor) will conduct an apprenticeship with Reaksmey Lath (San Diego) in Cambodian classical dance. Charya trained at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; today she is one of only a few professionally trained Cambodian classical dancers working in the United States. Reaksmey began her training with Sophiline Cheam Shapiro at the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach and has danced with Charya’s company since 2007. She will now focus on refining her presentation of two of the four main characters of the classical Cambodian repertoire, learning three new dance pieces over the course of the apprenticeship.
Master artist Cesar Castro (Los Angeles) will conduct an apprenticeship with Xochi Flores (Los Angeles) in son jarocho, a musical tradition of Veracruz, Mexico. Cesar began his training at the age of thirteen, learning from Andres Alfonso Vergara and later Gilberto Gutierrez of Grupo Mono Blanco, with whom Cesar performed and toured for eleven years. Xochi met Cesar in a zapateado (the dance element of son jarocho) workshop in Los Angeles in 2003. Her seven-year study of son jarocho will continue with this apprenticeship, which will focus on increasing Xochi’s skills in playing the jarana (a small, guitar-like instrument) and zapateado.
Master artist and Yoruba Lucumí priestess Gladys Bobi Cespedes (Oakland) will conduct an apprenticeship with her goddaughter Amara Tabor-Smith (Oakland) in Omo Odo, or sacred food preparation, within the Yoruba Lucumi tradition. Bobi was initiated as a priestess in 1967. For over four decades she has been a well-respected Agpuon (singer/director of religious ceremonies), a preferred Omo Odo (head cook), and a priestess well-versed in the tradition’s systems of divination. Amara has been studying Yoruba Lucumi traditions with Bobi for over two decades. Their apprenticeship will focus on food preparation for Orisa (gods) and Eggun (ancestors), how to organize and run the Yaraise unjen (traditional kitchen), and the oral lore that clarify and inform the methods.
Master artist Corey Chan (San Francisco) will conduct an apprenticeship with Chris Low (Torrance) in Chinese lion dance and lion head construction. Corey has been dancing and constructing lion heads for over three decades, learning from some of China’s master lion craftsmen, including Master Wok and Master Wu. Chris began dancing in 1982, studying under Master Man Keung Ng in San Diego, and is now a member of Los Angeles’ Awakened Blessing Lion Dance Troupe. The apprenticeship will focus on repairing and restoring an old lion head and choreographing a lion dance using traditional movements and elements.
Master artist Dethie “Pape” Diouf (Los Angeles) will conduct an apprenticeship with his son Thiane Diouf (Los Angeles) in Senegalese tama drumming. Pape, who comes from a long line of griots, traditional healers, and drummers, learned to drum during his childhood from his uncle,Baye Guna Mboup, and his formal instructor, Baye Guye Seck. Thiane began drumming under the tutelage of his father, as well as his grandfather, Balla Diouf. The apprenticeship will focus on increasing Thiane’s proficiency on the tama, including drum construction and ritual care of the instrument.
Master artist and NEA National Heritage Fellow Richard Hagopian (Selma) will conduct an apprenticeship with his grandson Andrew Hagopian (Fresno) in the Armenian kanun (zither). Richard has been playing the Armenian oud (lute) for more than six decades. During his formal training with Kanuni Garbis Bakirgian, Richard also became proficient in the other instruments essential in traditional Armenian music, including the clarinet, the dumbeg (drum), and the kanun. Andrew taught himself to play the dumbeg and plays often with his father and brother at various community events. He has begun teaching himself the kanun. During the apprenticeship, Andrew will improve his skill on the instrument, learning traditional music from Armenia’s different regions.
Master artist Srikanth Chary (Fremont) will conduct an apprenticeship with Ananya Ashok (Morgan Hill) in South Indian Carnatic music, focusing on increasing Ananya’s theoretical understanding of and improvisational skills on the veena (lute), ultimately preparing her to perform in a concert setting. Srikanth has been studying the veena for over four decades, first with Devakotttai Sri Narayana Iyenger, Kalyani Sama, A. Kanyakumari, and later with Lalgudi Jayaraman. Ananya has been Srikanth’s student for the past eleven years.
Master artist Padma Kutty (Irvine) will conduct an apprenticeship with Divya Asuri (Irvine) in South Indian Carnatic vocal music. Padma began studying Carnatic music over fifty years ago as a young child under Sri Neyyattinkara Vasudevan and subsequently with Kadakyavur Ranganatha Bhagavathar and the RLV Academy of Music. Padma began teaching Divya eleven years ago when Divya was six years old. The apprenticeship will focus on Divya’s improvisational skills, increasing her ability to evoke bhaavaa (emotion) and bhakthi (devotion), ultimately preparing her to perform in a concert setting.
Master artist Patricia A. Montgomery (Oakland) will conduct an apprenticeship with Helen Anderson (Pittsburg) in African American quilting. Patricia has been quilting for over four decades; she taught herself to quilt after learning how to sew in a high school home economics class. Since 2001, she has been a member of the African American Quilting Guild of Oakland, where she met Helen. Helen began quilting eleven years ago, after being inspired by the quilts on display at the African American Women on Tour conference. The apprenticeship will build upon Helen’s mastery of practical skills to encourage her creative acumen as she creates six story quilts of her own design.
Master artist Harold Muñiz (Sacramento) will conduct an apprenticeship with Ken Richards (Sacramento) and Dominic Garza (Sacramento) in Afro-Cuban batá drumming. Harold has been drumming for over thirty years, after teaching himself to play by listening to old Cuban recordings. He later trained formally with Marcus Gordon, Alfredo Videaux, Francisco Aguabella, and Regina Jimenez. Ken has studied and performed with Harold for nearly twenty years. Dominic has been a student of Harold’s since 1997. The apprenticeship will focus on enhancing Ken and Dominic’s mastery of their “chair,” or the specific drum they play within the three-drum ensemble.
Master artist Prumsodun Ok (Los Angeles) will conduct an apprenticeship with his sister Khannia Ok (Signal Hill) in Cambodian classical dance. Prumsodun began his training seven years ago under the direction of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro at the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach. He continued his training as a member of Sophiline’s Khmer Arts Ensemble in Takhmao, Cambodia. In 2007, he participated in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program as an apprentice to Charya Burt. Khannia took classes at the Khmer Arts Academy as a child, and has returned to dancing as a teenager. The apprenticeship will focus on developing Khannia’s abilities as a solo performer through the intensive study of Robam Apsara and Robam Tiyae, two pieces of traditional choreography.
Master artist Ennis Peck (Greenville) will conduct an apprenticeship with William Harrison (Woodland) in Mountain Maidu basketry, focusing on the harvesting and preparation of raw materials and the construction of a large close-weaved storage basket. Ennis has been weaving for over thirty years, learning as a child from his grandmother, Nellie Peck, and his aunt, the renowned weaver and elder Lily Baker. William has a history of working with Ennis hosting traditional ceremonies for their community. Their apprenticeship will build upon William’s knowledge of traditional Maidu regalia, singing, and other ceremonial practice.
Master artist Joselito “Amen” Santo (Culver City) will conduct an apprenticeship with Beto Gonzalez (Los Angeles) in Brazilian Candomblé atabaque drumming. Mestre Amen was initiated into the Candomblé religion as a young boy in his native Brazil. In addition to his training in Candomblé percussion, Amen, a former member of Brazil’s historic Viva Bahia dance ensemble, is also extensively trained in capoeira and Afro-Brazilian folkloric dance. Beto has been studying Afro-Brazilian music for nearly two decades. The apprenticeship will focus on improving Beto’s technique, as well as building his knowledge of the vast repertoire of rhythms within the Candomblé tradition.
Master artist Shreelata Suresh (San Mateo) will conduct an apprenticeship with Ganesh Vasudeva (San Francisco) in South Indian Bharatanatyam dance. Shreelata began her training at the age of six under Vyjayantimala Bali, and subsequently with Guru Kalaimamani K. N. Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Guru V. Krishnamoorthi. Ganesh began his training in Bharatanatyam with Chandrashekhar Nevada and with Shreelata since 2005. The apprenticeship will focus on Ganesh’s intensive research of the Tanjore style of Bharatanatyam, resulting in deepening Ganesh’s theoretical and technical knowledge, as well as the performance of several rare choreographies.
Master artist Stephen Tiffenson (Oakland) will conduct an apprenticeship with his son Christopher Tiffenson (Oakland) in Trinidadian Carnival costume construction. Hailing from Sangre Grande, Trinidad, Stephen grew up participating in all aspects of Carnival arts, including the construction of larger-than-life puppets and the skillful dancing required to animate them. After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, Stephen founded Mas Makers Massive, a masquerade—or mas—troupe in 1983. Christopher shares a similar lifelong immersion in Carnival arts, as Mas Makers Massive has been headquartered in the Tiffenson household from before his birth. The apprenticeship will focus on the construction of the traditional mas character Dame Lorraine.
Master artist Gloria Toolsie (Hayward) will conduct an apprenticeship with Jasmine McClain (Oakland) in Trinidadian Carnival costume construction. Growing up in Trinidad, Gloria learned the art of costume making as a child as her family participated in Carnival celebrations and parades each year. In 1978, Gloria co-produced San Francisco’s first Carnaval celebration -- an annual event which now draws hundreds of thousands of participants -- and has remained deeply involved since. Jasmine, a fourth generation seamstress, has worked with Gloria costuming the Loco Bloco Youth Ensemble, of which Jasmine is costume director. The apprenticeship will result in three Carnival costumes, Bele, La Dia Belsse, and The Carnaval Fantasy.
Master artist Van-Anh Vanessa Vo (Fremont) will conduct an apprenticeship with Lanie Quan (San Jose) in Vietnamese dan tranh (zither). Van-Anh began studying dan tranh at the age of four, and graduated with distinction from and taught at the Vietnam Academy of Music. In 1995, Van-Anh won the championship in the Vietnam National Dan Tranh Competition. During the apprenticeship, Lanie, a student of Van-Anh’s for two years, will study the techniques necessary to play the regional music of Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam.
Master artist Tsering Wangmo (El Cerrito) will conduct an apprenticeship with her niece Tsering Dolker (El Cerrito) in Tibetan folk opera. As a young Tibetan refugee in India, Tsering Wangmo learned traditional performing arts from watching her elders and learning from her mother in the refugee settlements. She later studied traditional Tibetan music, dance, and opera at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala, India, from 1982 to 1989. Tsering Dolker, also born in exile in India, began learning Tibetan folk music as a child in her settlement’s school. She has been studying with her aunt since 2005. The apprenticeship will focus on increasing Dolker’s skills in the tradition’s vocal and dance elements.
Master artist Ian Whitelaw (Redondo Beach) will conduct an apprenticeship with Ian Douglass (Redondo Beach) in the Scottish Great Highland bagpipes. Ian Whitelaw has been playing the bagpipes for over four decades. He has studied extensively with Andrew Wright, former president of the Highland Society of Piobaireachd, and has also been taught by Bob Nicol, former piper to Scotland’s King George VI. Ian Douglass learned to play the bagpipes as a child from his father. He has studied with Whitelaw for four years, after seeking him out to assist him in playing for his father’s funeral. The apprenticeship will focus on preparing Douglass to play accompaniment to Highland dancing, as well as a study of Piobaireachd, the classical music of the bagpipes.
Master artist Raphael Xavier (Los Angeles) will conduct an apprenticeship with Tyler White (Altadena) in American hip-hop breakdancing. Raphael, who began dancing at the age of 13 after seeing breakdancing on Soul Train, has been a professional breakdancer, choreographer, teacher, and historian for over 15 years. Tyler has been breakdancing since the age of nine. He has worked with Raphael for two years and as a b-boy possesses a level of skill for his age which Raphael describes as “mind-boggling.” The apprenticeship will focus on exposing Tyler to new and old school techniques of the form, as well as granting him a historical context of the tradition.