The Southwest Folklife Alliance was formed in 2014, in part, as a response to a gap in the support systems available for heritage artists in Arizona and the region. A group of passionate cultural leaders saw a need to amplify models of community development and place culture at the center of economic vitality and social equity, building on the 40-plus year track record of aesthetic explorations and ethical engagement among tradition bearers at the Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival.
A study commissioned by the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center in 2012 found that while an abundance of informal expressive arts, foods, and traditional knowledge exists among Native, ethnic, occupational, and other living folk communities ofthe US Southwest and northwest Mexico, much of the sustainability and impact of these assets is fragile and diffuse. In the US-Mexico border region specifically, recognition of the social and economic contributions of heritage artists has been negligible compared to other areas of the Southwest.
After an extensive planning process, the existing 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that had produced Tucson Meet Yourself (founded 1974) was re-tooled and renamed as Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA). With seed funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Surdna Foundation and the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences the scope of SFA became regional and national—the first dedicated folklife organization along the US-Mexico border corridor focused solely on uplifting, supporting, and presenting the work of traditional artists year-round.