Statewide Apprenticeship Program Supports California's Cultural Traditions Through 19 Artist Teams


ACTA - Posted on 17 January 2015

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Master Carnatic vocalist Jayashree Varadarajan (left) and her 2015 apprentice Sravya Rallapalli (Photo: Prasad Rallapalli)

Since 1999, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts’ (ACTA’s) Apprenticeship Program has supported California’s cultural traditions with 278 contracts to outstanding folk and traditional artists and practitioners.  Now entering its fifteenth cycle, ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program encourages the continuation of the state’s living cultural heritage by contracting exemplary master artists to offer intensive training and mentorship to qualified apprentices.  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 2015 Apprenticeship Program cohort of 38 artists reflects California’s breadth of cultural diversity and intergenerational learning, ranging from master artists well into their 70s to two 14-year old apprentices, spanning the state geography from Siskiyou to Riverside Counties.  Thriving traditions supported through these apprenticeships reflect indigenous California cultural practices that include Mono fingerweaving and Patwin basketry; and traditions which have taken root in California hailing from cultural communities from Mexico, Africa, Cuba, India, China, Japan, Iran, and other parts of the United States.

The Alliance for California Traditional Arts' Apprenticeship Program is supported with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; plus individual contributors supporting one or more apprenticeships -- Artivist Entertainment, Howard L. Kitchener Memorial, and the many donors to the 2014 apprenticeship giving campaign.

Additional support is provided by the California Arts Council, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and the San Francisco Foundation.  ACTA is the California Arts Council’s statewide partner in serving the folk & traditional arts field.

The 19 statewide artist pairs contracted in the 2015 Apprenticeship Program are:


"Wisdom" by master calligrapher Mohammad Bazargan. Ink on paper.Master artist José Francisco Barroso (Alameda) will share with his apprentice Amikaeyla Gaston (Alameda) the knowledge and ritual role of the Afro-Cuban Akpwon singer.Master artist Cesar Castro with instruments he constructed

Master artist Mohammad Navid Bazargan (Los Angeles) will provide a mentorship to Arash Shirinbab (Alameda) in the art of Persian calligraphy, Nastaliq.

Returning to the Apprenticeship Program is master artist Cesar Castro (Los Angeles) (2011), who will mentor Luis Sarmiento (Orange) in instrument construction within the son jarocho tradition of Mexico.

Master artist Domitilia Clemente (Riverside) will mentor apprentice Josefina Mulato (Riverside) in the preparation of indigenous Purepecha traditional food dishes of Michoacán, Mexico.

Master artist Marion Coleman (Alameda) will pass on her deep knowledge of material work based in African American quilting traditions to her apprentice Ora Clay (Alameda).

Odissi dance master Vishnu Tatva Das (Vilas Lakhpati) (Sonoma) will mentor his apprentice Maureen Nandini Mitra (Alameda) in this East Indian dance form."Trail Blazers" by Marion Coleman, a narrative quilt that is part of a series about blacks in the west.

June Lou (Alameda) will apprentice with master artist Wang Fei (Alameda) (2009) to further develop technique for the Chinese zither, the guqin, and develop teaching methods for beginning students of the instrument.

Master artist Stefka Kamburova (Alameda) will prepare her apprentice and daughter Erolina Kamburova (Alameda) to understand the cultural and social context of Balkan Romani dances and how they connect to life cycle events.A lion head restored by Chris Low during his apprenticeship with master artist Corey Chan in 2011.  Chris returns to the Apprenticeship Program this year as a master artist; he will conduct an apprenticeship with Cathry Trang in the art of lion head restoration.

Chinese Lion Dance master artist Chris Low (Los Angeles) (2011, apprentice) returns to the Apprenticeship Program to mentor apprentice Cathy Trang (Los Angeles) in learning the skills to reconstruct the elaborate lion head regalia within this tradition.

Apprentice Cristina Gonzales (Tulare) will further her understanding of fingerweaving, practiced by the cultural communities of the Dunlap Band Mono and the Coastal Band Chumash, through a mentorship with master artist Gladys Dick McKinney (Fresno) (2010, 2000).

Master artist Silvia Santiago Miguel (Riverside) will provide mentorship to her sister Lucia Santiago Miguel (Riverside) to continue a family tradition of Zapotec backstrap weaving from San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca.Baskets by master Patwin basketweaver Bertha Mitchell.

Apprentice Debbie Moore (Colusa) will be mentored by master basketweaver Bertha Mitchell (Colusa) to develop her skills in the traditional construction and processes of Patwin baskets.

Master artist Susheela Narasimhan (Alameda) will provide instruction and mentorship to apprentice Durga Ganesh (Santa Clara) to further develop her technique on the violin and repertoire of South Indian Carnatic music.

Master artist Dennis Newsome (San Diego) (2013) will continue his mentorship in the music and movement of the African diasporic cultural practice of Kalenda stick fighting with his young apprentice Shiloh Williams (San Diego).

Master Kalenda practitioner Dennis Newsome (right) and his apprentice Shiloh Williams

Dance master Vishal Ramani (Santa Clara) (2005) will mentor apprentice Sharanya Balaji (Santa Clara) in the South Indian tradition of Bharatanatyam.

Master musician Ravindra Bharathy Sridharan (Santa Clara) will work with his apprentice Shreyas Ramaswami (Santa Clara) to further develop his skills and technique in percussion on the South Indian mrudangam in the Thanjavur style of Carnatic music.

Master artist Tou Thao (San Bernadino) will pass on to his apprentice and son, Alex Thao (San Bernadino), the cultural and ritual understanding of the Hmong musical wind instrument the qeej.

Sravya Rallapalli (Santa Clara) will be apprenticing with returning master musician Jayashree Varadarajan (Santa Clara) (2010) to further develop the cultural and technical understanding of South Indian Carnatic vocals.

Master artist Mariko Watabe (Ventura) will be mentoring her apprentice Amy Smith (Ventura) in various musical and technical aspects of the Japanese musical ensemble known as Hayashi.

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