National Endowment for the Arts Names Two Californians 2018 National Heritage Fellows

Pictured: Folk and traditional artists Marion Coleman and Ofelia Esparza, California recipients of the 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellowships.
Left photo by Nyls Jongewaard. Right photo by Mark Markley, courtesy of Craft in America.

SACRAMENTO, CA – The National Endowment for the Arts announced today its newest recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, two of whom are based in the state of California. Castro Valley’s Marion Coleman and Ofelia Esparza of Los Angeles are among the nine to be honored as 2018 recipients. The NEA National Heritage Fellowships, awarded annually, highlight the breadth and excellence of the artistic traditions found in communities all across the United States.

Marion Coleman, an African-American quilter based in the Bay Area, pieces together her family’s skilled heritage and the roots of African-American tradition together with modern mixed-media and digital art forms to transform her work into unique and relevant storytelling devices depicting a wide range of subjects, including African-American history and culture, social justice, and women and aging. She has combined her 30 years of social service experience and quiltmaking to provide community art education in schools, libraries, community organizations, and juvenile justice centers. Click here for 2018 National Heritage Fellow Marion Coleman’s full biography.

Ofelia Esparza is a Mexican-American altar maker, or Chicana altarista, based in Los Angeles. Her work is informed by a deep spiritual belief in the traditional process, which pays homage and evokes memory of people, events, or places through multilevel structures embellished with photos, traditional foods, flowers, and handmade and found adornments. For nearly 40 years, Esparza has shared her knowledge and art about el Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with people in schools, museums, community centers, prisons, and parks throughout the Los Angeles region and beyond. Click here for 2018 National Heritage Fellow Ofelia Esparza’s full biography.

“We are proud to see California’s depth of culture so well-represented among this year’s Heritage Fellows,” said Anne Bown-Crawford, California Arts Council Director. “Traditional art forms such as Marion Coleman’s quiltmaking and Ofelia Ezparza’s altars are incredibly powerful for their capacity to communicate our past, examine our present, and inform our future.”

Amy Kitchener, executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, the California Arts Council’s statewide partner for folk and traditional arts, commends the California recipients.

“It has been a great privilege to work with both of these visionary artists at the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, where they have shared their skills and knowledge as master artists in our statewide Apprenticeship Program which supports an intensive period of learning with a dedicated apprentice carrying forward their inspiration to the next generation. This award shares their inspiring histories and art on the national stage and also affirms the relevance, beauty, and creativity that emanates from African American cultures in the East Bay and from Chicano East L.A.,” Kitchener said.

In addition to their artistic value, each of the Heritage Fellows’ art forms also reflects the community they come from and the history of the tradition.

NEA Heritage Fellows will receive a $25,000 award and be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony and concert, both of which are free and open to the public.

  • The NEA National Heritage Fellowships Awards Ceremony will take place at the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First Street SE in Washington, DC on Wednesday, September 26, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.
  • The NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert will take place at Sidney Harman Hall at 610 F Street NW in Washington, DC on Friday, September 28, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. The concert will also be webcast live at More concert details and ticket information will be available later this summer.

“The 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows have dedicated their lives to mastering these distinctive art forms and sharing them with new audiences both within their communities and nationwide,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts. “We look forward to celebrating them and their incredible artistic accomplishments this fall.”

Forty-five California artists and culture bearers have been recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowship since its start in 1982. Click here for the full list.

To read the full announcement from the National Endowment for the Arts, including the list of all 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows, click here.

About the NEA National Heritage Fellowships
The National Heritage Fellowships—the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts—recognize the recipients’ artistic excellence and support their continuing contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. Including the 2018 class, the NEA has awarded 431 NEA National Heritage Fellowships, recognizing artists working in more than 200 distinct art forms, such as bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, sweetgrass basketweaver Mary Jackson, cowboy poet Wally McRae, Kathak dancer and choreographer Chitresh Das, and gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples. More information about the NEA National Heritage Fellows is available on the NEA’s website.

Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in the folk and traditional arts. The panel’s recommendations are reviewed by the National Council on the Arts, which sends its recommendations to the NEA chairman, who makes the final decision. The NEA is currently accepting nominations for the 2019 class of NEA National Heritage Fellowships. The deadline is July 30, 2018. Visit the NEA’s website for more information and to submit a nomination.

About the National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more about NEA.

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The mission of the California Arts Council, a state agency, is to advance California through the arts and creativity. The Council is committed to building public will and resources for the arts; fostering accessible arts initiatives that reflect contributions from all of California’s diverse populations; serving as a thought leader and champion for the arts; and providing effective and relevant programs and services.

Members of the California Arts Council include: Chair Nashormeh Lindo, Vice Chair Larry Baza, Phoebe Beasley, Christopher Coppola, Juan Devis, Kathleen Gallegos, Jaime Galli, Donn K. Harris, Louise McGuinness, Steven Oliver, and Rosalind Wyman. Learn more at


NEA: Liz Auclair

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