Master musician Bounxeung Synanonh was only fifteen when he first picked up the kaen, a free-reed mouth organ made from varied lengths of bamboo lined with copper. Despite that he was blind, he learned to play from his uncle and other village elders, relying on his ear and memory, he ultimately embodied the beauty and sentiment of the music. Bounxeung fled his hometown for a Thai war refugee camp before coming to the U.S. in 1981. Among the few treasured items he brought to California was his Laotian kaen. He settled in California’s Central Valley and was embraced by the Laotian community, who invited him to perform at annual festivals, weddings, births, homecomings, and house-warmings. Eager students began approaching him for kaen lessons, which is how the Alliance for California Traditional Arts began supporting his work in transmitting his music to the next generation.
In 2008, Bounxeung was awarded a master artist contract through ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program to work with musical apprentice Monty Bouasone. Later, ACTA nominated Bounxeung for a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship for folk and traditional arts, and we are thrilled that he was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts and honored at a ceremony and performance held in Washington DC this past September.
Bounxeung’s bond with ACTA is just one of over 1,000 relationships with California’s traditional artists that we’ve nurtured over the years. Since 1999, our Apprenticeship Program has supported the state’s folk and traditional artists and practitioners. We encourage the continuity of our living cultural heritage by contracting exemplary master artists such as Bounxeung Synanonh, to offer intensive training and mentorship to their selected apprentices. Each contract supports a period of concentrated learning for apprentices who have shown a commitment to and talent for a continuing a specific tradition—this time allows for the transmission of life experiences, values, and the beauty of a learned art.
Our goal is to raise $8,000 to support two master/apprenticeship pairs and the required program expenses. Would you consider making a gift—even a few dollars? Many people giving small amounts of money can make a huge difference in keeping our diverse cultural traditions thriving in California. Or better yet, give a little once a month in the form of a recurring gift throughout the year. ACTA is a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization, and all donations are tax deductible.
You can make a donation online at https://www.crowdrise.com/help-californias-diverse-traditions-thrive-support-acta1/fundraiser/acta or send a check to ACTA’s office, located at 744 P Street #307, Fresno, CA 93721.
Thank you so much for your support and generosity.
Amy Kitchener, Executive Director
What happened in 2016?
• Now in its sixteenth cycle, our Apprenticeship Program awarded eighteen artist teams of master and apprentices contracts for one-on-one intensive training and mentorship. The 2016 Apprenticeship Program cohort of 36 artists ranged from master artists in their 70s to a 6-year old apprentice, supporting thriving traditions such as Mono beaded collars, African American quilting, and the preparation of Reposteria Juxtlahuaca, the traditional baked goods specific to the Mixteco Baja region of Oaxaca, Mexico.
• We supported organizations with 41 grants for community-driven traditional arts projects and programs, from indigenous Purepechá embroidery in the Eastern Coachella Valley, to Garifuna Culture and Language classes in Los Angeles county through ACTA’S Living Cultures Grant Program.
• Through our Community Leadership Program, we supported seven organizations rooted in traditional arts practice and serving low income communities of color in the San Joaquin Valley, completing four years of capacity building support of $20,000 per year per organization along with tailored consulting and skill building activities.
• We launched “Sounds of California,” a multifaceted project involving performance, recording, archiving, and public dialogue about the cultural soundscapes of this state with three national partners: the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the national Latino public radio network Radio Bilingüe, and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
• Our Arts in Corrections program, which connects traditional artists to the large and diverse inmate population of the state, is now in its third year. In 2016, we curated 21 thirteen week teaching artist residencies in five correctional institutions during the course of the year.
• More 200 participants attended our Traditional Arts Roundtable Series workshops, held in Oakland and Los Angeles.
• We began our fifth year of collaborating for community health systems change in Boyle Heights – leading through the pathway of traditional arts engagement to increase health care coverage for undocumented; disrupt the schools to prison pipeline; and detour the displacement of longtime residents.