Published May 31, 2023

The Virginia Folklife Program of Virginia Humanities has awarded five teams of artists Folklife Apprenticeships for 2023–24. Since 2002, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Virginia Folklife has awarded funding and a platform to teams of individuals engaged in sustaining cultural traditions.

Rhys Jones will apprentice Willie Marschner in old-time fiddling. Photo courtesy the artist.

The five apprenticeship teams represent art forms with centuries-old roots in Virginia—including African American storytelling and music, and old-time fiddling—as well as traditions with deep meaning for immigrant communities—including dance and music of Bolivia and Puerto Rico. The artists were selected for their exemplary skill and for their potential to introduce fellow Virginians to their practice.

Teams will collaborate with Folklife staff to produce short films documenting their work and perform for in-person audiences at apprenticeship celebration events or at the 2024 Richmond Folk Festival.

“This is an exceptional group of artists working in distinct Virginia communities, and we are looking forward to collaborating with them in the coming year,” shared Virginia Folklife Program Director Katy Clune. “We welcome our first team from Danville, led by storyteller Fred Motley. Fred captured the mission of these apprenticeships so beautifully in his statement: ‘Traditions are our lifeline for survival, they connect us and empower us to take the past into the future.'”

2023–2023 Mentor Folk Artists & Apprentices

  • Roots of African American music: A three person team, made up of Dena Jennings (Nasons, VA), Corey Harris (Charlottesville, VA), and Lamont Jack Pearley (Bowling Green, KY) will work together exploring roots of Black music, with Jennings teaching gourd instrument building and Harris teaching Piedmont-style blues. Jennings is founder of the Affrolachian On-Time Music Gathering (The Thang), Harris is a former MacArthur Fellow, and Pearley founded The African American Folklorist magazine.
  • Puerto Rican plena & requinto hand drumming: Erick M. Vializ Montalvo (Mayagüez, PR), who performs as Kily Vializ, will apprentice Maurice Sanabria (Richmond, VA) in Mayagüez-style plena singing, composition and drumming. Sanabria is a member of the Richmond-based bomba, plena, and salsa band Kadencia.
  • Bolivian dance: Nelly Zapata (Fairfax, VA) will apprentice her daughter Paloma in traditional Bolivian dance—specifically, the “Diablada” (“Dance of the Devils”) and Paloma will advance her practice in painting Bolivian dancers
  • Old-time fiddling: Rhys Jones (Warrenton, VA) will apprentice Willie Marschner in the traditions of old-time fiddling of Virginia, including the repertoire of Fauquier County fiddler John Ashby (1915-1979)
  • African American storytelling: Fred Motley (Danville, VA), founder of the Danville Storytelling Festival, will apprentice Karen Williamson (Caswell County, NC) in the art of storytelling, with attention to remembering and bringing to life local community history

Apprenticeship Program artists, through performances and publications, contribute to our understanding of how Virginians are evolving traditions into contemporary identity. To date, 147 teams (330 individuals) have received support through this program, representing forms of community expression as diverse as the Commonwealth itself. Mentor artists, considered masters of their practice, receive $5000, while apprentices receive $1000. The application for the 2024-2025 Apprenticeship Program cohort will open November 1, 2023.

The Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program receives funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Learning Experience

Virginia History in Song

What can songs teach us about history?