Master batá drummer Juan Carlos Blanco Riera (R) and his 2010 apprentice Menelike Turner (L). Photo: Sherwood Chen/ACTA.

Apprenticeship Program

Encouraging the continuity of California’s traditional arts and cultures


Jennifer Joy Jameson (Los Angeles), Program Manager + Media Director,, 760-805-8002

For over 20 years, ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program has supported California’s cultural traditions with 385 contracts made to outstanding traditional artists and practitioners. 

The Apprenticeship Program encourages the continuity of the state’s thriving traditional arts and cultures by contracting mentor artists to offer intensive, one-on-one training to eligible apprentices.

Each $3,000 contract will support a period of concentrated learning, from 6 mos. to a year, for apprentices who demonstrate a committed engagement with, and a talent for, a specific traditional art form or cultural practice.

Mahsa Vahdat (R), master Persian singer, and her 2018 apprentice Adrienne Shamszad in Berkeley. Photo: Jennifer Jameson/ACTA.

2007 apprentice Yafonne Chen (L) studies traditional Chinese wushu (sword dance) with mentor Ling Mei Zhang (R) in San Francisco. Photo: Sherwood Chen/ACTA.

Khmer classical dancer Prumsodun Ok perfects the posture of his sister and 2009 apprentice Khannia Ok in Long Beach. Photo: Russell Rodriguez/ACTA.

Master of Bulgarian/Romani wedding music (svatbarska muzika), Rumen Shopov (R), with his 2018 apprentice Jesse Stremski-Andrews in Berkeley. Photo: Shweta Saraswat/ACTA.

2010 apprentice Lance Zazueta studied leatherworking under his grandfather and master saddlemaker Gaylerd Thissell in Cottonwood. Photo: Sherwood Chen/ACTA.

2018 apprentice Nelia Marshall (R; Hupa) with master basketweaver Margaret Peters (L; Yurok, Karuk) after foraging for roots to use in the production of Karuk/Yurok baby baskets near the coast of Humboldt Bay. Photo: Shweta Saraswat/ACTA.

Mentor artist Gilbert “Magu” Lujan (L) and 2008 apprentice in lowrider vehicle construction and lowrider sculpture, Mario Trillo (R) in Los Angeles. Photo: Sherwood Chen/ACTA.

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Learn about the 2022 Apprenticeship Cohort

The 2022 Apprenticeship Program cohort of 42 artists (21 pairs) represents California’s breadth of cultural diversity and intergenerational learning.


Application Period

The Apprenticeship application typically opens annually in the late winter /early spring and closes late spring. Specific dates are announced on our website once application is open. ACTA staff will also offer informational webinars during the application period and be available to answer questions by phone or email. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for the most up to date info.

Review Period

ACTA staff review submitted applications for eligibility in the spring and summer. Eligible applications go forward to an external review panel early summer. Applications recommended for funding are approved by ACTA’s Board in the summer.


All applicants will be notified if they received the Apprenticeship by July.

Who is a mentor artist?  Who is an apprentice?

Apprentice Panuncio Gutiérrez with a recently finished Danza de los Apaches mask and master artist Luis Morales Ortiz holding a recently finished diablo mask in San Diego. Photo: Amy Kitchener/ACTA, 2016.

A mentor artist is someone who is recognized as an exemplary practitioner of a traditional art form by their community and peers.

An apprentice is someone who learns from a mentor artist. Prospective apprentices should demonstrate an intention to enhance their established skills and cultural understanding of the art form by working with a master. The mentor artist and apprentice must apply together with a mutual desire to work with each other.

What are traditional arts?

Traditional arts are those art forms that are transmitted and engaged as part of the cultural life of a group of people whose members share a common heritage, language, religion, occupation, or region. These expressions are deeply rooted in and reflective of a community’s shared standards of beauty, values, or life experiences. Traditional arts are often passed on from one generation to the next, or from one community member to another, and express a collective wisdom, rather than only a unique personal aesthetic.

Mentor artist Nzingha Camara teaches apprentice Amber Tell West African dance forms of the Bambara people in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Photo: Jennifer Joy Jameson/ACTA, 2018.

Some traditional arts have been brought to California from other countries or regions and have taken root here to become interwoven with the state’s cultural landscape and identity, while others have prospered on the more than 130 tribal reservations and rancherias in this state. Japanese bonsai; Cowboy poetry; Hmong reverse appliqué embroidery; Mexican corridos (ballads) and mariachi music; African American quilts; Native American basketry, ceremonial regalia construction and ritual music/dance; South Indian Bharata Natyam dance; Western saddle making; Chinese qin instrumental music; Portuguese fado singing; Native Hawaiian kahiko hula chant and dance; and Pilipino rondalla music ensembles are but a few of the many hundreds of distinctive forms found in this tremendously diverse and culturally rich state.

Review Criteria

A panel of traditional arts specialists (artists, cultural workers, scholars, organizers, and advocates) will review applications and make recommendations for approval by the ACTA Board of Directors, according to the following criteria:

    • Traditionality of the art form
    • Artistic quality of the mentor artist’s work
    • Demonstrated commitment and developed skill of the apprentice
    • Shared membership of the mentor artist and apprentice in a cultural community (family, heritage, occupation, tribe, religion, etc.)
    • Feasibility of the proposed work plan and timetable
    • Urgency (for endangered art forms)

Downloadable Hard Copy (Paper) Application

Please first consider applying online via Submittable. If you feel more comfortable applying by mail with a downloadable print application, you may access the application below.


Solicitud Física Descargable en Español

Por favor considera solicitar en línea por medio de Submittable. Si te sientes más cómodx solicitando por correo tradicional por medio de una solicitud que puedas descargar e imprimir, puedes acceder a ella y descargarla abajo en inglés o español.

La solicitud en copia impresa está próxima.


    • Browse all former Apprenticeship mentor artists.
    • Watch a video about applying to the Apprenticeship Program here.
    • Mire un video sobre cómo solicitar el Programa de Aprendices aquí.
    • Read about recent Apprenticeship recipients from 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018.


The Apprenticeship Program is a program of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, ArtPlace San Joaquin Valley, and the Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation. Additional support provided by the California Arts Council, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.

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