National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2008 NEA National Heritage Fellowship Recipients

Washington, DC (USA) – The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) today announced the 2008 recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, the country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Eleven fellowships, which include a one-time award of $20,000 each, are presented to honorees from eight states and Puerto Rico. The NEA National Heritage Fellowships program is made possible through the support of the Darden Restaurants Foundation and family of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and Seasons 52 restaurants.
 These awardees were chosen for their artistic excellence and contributions to our nation’s cultural heritage. They represent a cross-section of ethnic cultures and traditions including Native American, Peruvian, Ethiopian, Brazilian, and Korean and art forms ranging from saddlemaking and dance to bluegrass music and drum making.National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia said, "It is important to recognize the diverse traditional arts that enrich America’s cultural landscape and to award those whose dedication and artistry are so integral to the continuation of these art forms."
 The 2008 NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients are:
 Horace P. Axtell
 Nez Perce drum maker, singer, tradition-bearer
 Lewiston, ID
 Dale Harwood
 Shelley, ID
 Bettye Kimbrell
 Mt. Olive, AL
 Jerónimo E. Lozano
 Peruvian retablo (portable altar boxes) maker
 Salt Lake City, UT
 Oneida Singers of Wisconsin
 Oneida hymn singers
 Oneida, WI
 Sue Yeon Park
 Korean dancer and musician
 New York, NY
 Moges Seyoum
 Ethiopian liturgical musician/scholar
 Alexandria, VA
 Jelon Vieira
 Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian art form) master
 New York, NY
 Dr. Michael White
 Traditional jazz musician/bandleader
 New Orleans, LA
 Mac Wiseman
 Bluegrass musician
 Nashville, TN
 The 2008 Bess Lomax Hawes Award goes to traditional arts specialist and advocate Walter Murray Chiesa of Bayamón, Puerto Rico.
 Another feature of this year’s fellows is the role ritual plays in their art forms: Horace P. Axtell makes drums as part of the traditional religion of the tribes of the plateau; Sue Yeon Park is a master of the salpuri-chum (Shaman ritual dance) and seungmu (Buddhist ritual dance); the Oneida Singers perform at funerals and tribal ceremonies; and Moges Seyoum is the only practitioner living in the United States of an elaborate style of movement of the Ethiopian Orthodox prayer staff (takla).
 These honorees join the ranks of previous Heritage Fellows, including bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, cowboy poet Wally McRae, gospel singer Shirley Caesar, and bluegrass musician Bill Monroe. Since 1982, the Endowment has awarded 338 NEA National Heritage Fellowships.
 Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in folk and traditional arts on the basis of their continuing artistic accomplishments and contributions as practitioners and teachers. This year a nine-member panel reviewed 235 nominations for the 11 fellowships. The ratio of winners to nominees indicates the extraordinary level of competition for this national honor.
 The 2008 awardees will come to Washington, D.C. in September for a series of events including a banquet at the Library of Congress and an awards presentation on Capitol Hill as well as a concert scheduled for Friday, September 19, at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland.
 Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI) headquartered in Orlando, Fla., is the world’s largest full-service restaurant company with almost $6.7 billion in annual sales and approximately 180,000 employees. The Company owns and operates nearly 1,700 restaurants including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. For more information, please visit
 The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.