We bring the tools of the folklorist (assets mapping, ethnography, participatory action research), always centering arts and culture, to community collaborations, philanthropic initiatives, educational activities, and community development. Our past work in these areas includes: 


Reclaiming the Border Narrative (2020-2023)
A three-year effort initiated by the Ford Foundation in partnership with the National Association of Hispanic JournalistsNational Association of Latino Arts and CulturesBorealis Philanthropy, and the Center for Cultural Power, this Initiative supported storytelling efforts along the US-Mexico border into to penetrate attentions and expand perceptions about the border region and migration, from one of chaos and danger to one in which all communities, people, and cultures are understood, respected, and uplifted. SFA researchers Dr. Maribel Alvarez and Kimi Eisele conducted an ethnography of the initiative.

Thrive in the ’05 (2022-2023)

In Spring 2022 the City of Tucson’s Mayor and City Council adopted the Thrive in the ’05 Transformation Plan, the culmination of a three-year effort to engage a 2.3-square mile subregion of the 85705 zip code in a place-based, community centered collaboration of businesses, community organizations, and residents. SFA was one of many partners charged with implementing the plan through  activities that mobilized the community, bringing together partners to accomplish tasks like planting trees, painting the streets, and hosting events in the Thrive area. SFA engaged communities through pop-up events and a six-week Community Folklorist Field School to foreground cultural heritage, creative placemaking, and folklife in a both a celebration and reimagining of the neighborhoods. Download or view Thriving Folklife: Tucson’s 85705 Past, Present, and Future, a report of our work and the stories gathered by community folklorists.

End of Life: Continuum (EOL) (2014-2023)
Our End of Life: Continuum Program documented and curated events sharing cultural knowledge of traditions, expressions, and practices associated with end of life, grief, mourning and death in Southern Arizona’s folk, ethnic, occupational, faith-based and alternative communities.

Plain View Fellowship (2021)
This pilot fellowship program (spring 2021) supported five documentarians and artist-researchers in documenting folklife, culture, and heritage in the Greater Southwest and Northwest Mexico. The program takes its name from folklorist Mary Hufford’s notion that the study of folklife reveals beauty “hidden in plain view” and aims to elevate and illuminate a slice of folklife, culture, or heritage in the region that may otherwise be misunderstood, overlooked, or forgotten.

SFA Documentary Cohort (2018-2020)
From 2018 to 2020, we convened a cohort of documentary artists in Southern Arizona for learning exchanges in ethnographic methods, peer mentoring, and folklife immersion.


Folk & Traditional Artists in Arizona – A Survey of Support (2021-2022)
A collaborative effort with the Arizona Commission on the Arts funded by the American Council of Learned Societies, research by Casely Coan investigates the impact that monetary awards and other forms of support have on folk and traditional artists and culture bearers in the state of AZ. She is conducting ethnographic interviews with Master-Apprentice Awardees and reviewing survey data to deepen our understanding of how support functions in the artists’ communities and also to identify what other forms of support are still needed. Following this, Casely will also conduct interviews with new artists in an effort to identify emergent trends in Arizona folklife and to bring attention to parts of the state that haven’t yet been featured in SFA’s programming. This project is the first statewide survey of Arizona folklife since Kimi Eisele’s 2012 report, “Abundant and Diffused: An Assessment of the Folk and Traditional Arts in Arizona,” which led to Southwest Folklife Alliance’s founding.

Arizona Creative Communities Initiative (2019-2020)
We offered guidance to the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (ASU HIDA), in an initiative supporting 9 teams representing Arizona cities, towns, and neighborhoods exploring how arts and culture can contribute to community development and positive community change. Teams received intensive training, one-on-one mentorship, and funding. Visit the AZCCI site to listen to podcasts about each of the projects.

University of Arizona Office of Student Engagement (2019-2020)
We worked with the UA Office of Student Engagement to assess the landscape of student programs, courses, and projects that integrate community engagement at the university. Our findings offer recommendations for best practices and institutional support. We also carried out case studies of several such programs. Sept. 2019-Jan 2020

Nogales, Arizona: A rapid-assessment of community needs/assets/desires (2017-2018)
We conducted a needs assessment in Nogales, Arizona to understand pressing local issues, innovative responses, and ideas for how the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences might best use the Castro House, the former residence of the state’s only Mexican American Governor, Raul Castro. The house was gifted to the College in fall 2019. Our assessment also helped birth VozFrontera, an SFA program in Nogales, bringing arts and entrepreneurship to youth in that community, in collaboration with community partners and with funding from ArtPlace America. 2017-2018.

Folklife in Community Development

Yoeme/Yaqui Culinary Resistance (2017-2019)
SFA worked with Yaqui and Yoeme communities in Sonora and Arizona to explore connections between the cultivation and preparation of wheat and the tribe’s resiliency and cultural preservation. We assisted communities in developing a strategic plan for its economic recovery using oral histories, test planting sites, and artisanal cooking workshops.

Folklife Education

VozFrontera (2017-2019)
VozFrontera was a series of programs focusing on youth engagement, leadership, and local arts incubation in Nogales, Arizona. It provided documentary arts mentoring with youth, artist- and scholar-in-residence programs, and co-working lab space for young leaders and entrepreneurs, and represented an innovative partnership between the Southwest Folklife Alliance, the University of Arizona, and individuals and organizations in Nogales. It was funded by a 2017 National Creative Placemaking grant from ArtPlace America.

This Is Folklife Classes & Workshops
We offer a periodic series of classes & workshops called “This Is Folklife,” which includes cultural immersion experiences (Up Close), focused explorations of culture in action (Unpacked), and skill-based trainings in folklife and ethnography (How To). See past offerings here.

Ethnographic Field Schools
Our Ethnographic Field Schools offer a combination of cultural immersion and training in the basic skills of cultural analysis and documentation. These multi-day programs are specifically geared for non-academic adult learners interested in cultural documentation and enhancing “sense of place.” Our field schools happen throughout the border region, and are developed collaboratively with host communities to mutually benefit local producers, artisans, and educators, and participants. See past field schools with links to student work here.

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