We provide direct support for master traditional artists living in Arizona to pass on art, culture, and heritage practices to apprentice learners through the annual SFA Master-Apprentice Award. The award is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and Arizona Commission on the Arts.
The award supports a master artist or tradition bearer who has identified a qualified apprentice (or group of apprentices) to engage in a teaching-learning relationship that includes one-on-one mentorship and hands-on experience. Our highest priority is to support apprentices to learn from master artists within their own cultural traditions. Funds can be used to help cover artist fees, offset costs of raw materials, and support any travel essential to the exchange. Traditional artists & culture bearers receive $5,000; apprentices receive $500.
Artists are first nominated by peers within their community, cultural institutions, apprentices, or by self-nomination. SFA then invites nominees to apply based on their mastery of artform, their ability to describe how that form has been recognized by their cultural community, and their ability to share traditional knowledge. Applicants include a wide variety of artists, including those working in traditions including, but not limited to:
- Handcrafts: weavers; basket makers; jewelers; makers of masks, ritual objects, textiles
- Occupational folklife: adobe makers, leather workers, ironworkers, foodways workers
- Oral traditions: storytellers, poets
- Performing arts: dancers, vocalists, musicians
Deadline for 2023 nominations has passed. 2024 nominations will open in the spring.
The 2022 awardees are:
Karen Begay, Traditional Navajo Hogan Builder, Smoke Signal, AZ
Karen Begay learned to build traditional Navajo hogans from her grandfather,Tsinijinnie Nez Begay, who also taught her songs, prayers, ceremonies, and how to live off the land. While she has been building for many years, during the pandemic, she started building hogans for unsheltered Dine families. To her knowledge, she is the only female hogan-builder in her tribe, and one of the few Navajos who still build traditional hogans. She builds the traditional eight-sided hogan using juniper or local pine trees. Following tradition, she builds the hogan door facing east, and has each hogan blessed by a medicine man. Her son, Aubrey Cardin-Begay, will serve as her apprentice.
Alex Beeshligaii, Silversmith, Tucson, AZ
Alex Beeshligaii (Naabeehó Dineh/Apache) has worked as a traditional Naabeeho Dineh silversmith for more than 30 years, making jewelry using tufa and sand molds. He learned the artform from family and community members as well as from artists Sam Tabaha (Klagetoh/Naabeehó Dineh), Rick Manuel (Tohono O’odham), Alan Wallace (Washo Maidu), the late Preston Monongye (Hopi) and the late Sherwood Numkema (Hopi). He sings to the artwork that he makes, as he was taught by his late mother. He will work with his son, Shane Blue Hawk Beeshligaii, to pass on the tradition and philosophy of the artform as well as Naabeehó Dineh language and history.
Fadi Iskandar, Violin, Middle Eastern Musical Traditions, Tucson, AZ
A second time awardee, Fadi Iskandar is a master violinist from Syria with a deep musical understanding and knowledge of Middle Eastern music, theory, and culture. Trained as a young boy in classical violin, he then learned Middle Eastern music from elders in his community through improvisation and the practice of mastering by ear “maqam” or Middle Easter musical scales not found in Western music. His artistry is influenced by Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, Gypsy, French, Russian, Kurdish, Turkish, and Byzantine musical forms. He will work with apprentice, Naya Mokaabari on learning the music, maqams, meditations and intent behind the music.
Denise Bey, African Dance, Tucson, AZ
Denise Bey began studying traditional West African dance at age 14 with Ladji Camara who arrived from Guinea with Les Ballets Africans. She also studied under M’Bemba Bandoura, Youssouf Koumbassa, and Ligia Barretto. Hailing from a family of artists, Denise is also well-versed in the doctrines of the Orisha, which she learned from her father, Chief Bey, and Christianity from her mother. Denise also danced as part of Stevie Wonder’s Inner Square Circle tour in 1986, and was invited to teach for Ismael Ivo in Germany. She will pass along her wealth of knowledge to her apprentice, Jacob Davis, as they investigate African music and dance – traditions that slavery and oppressive forces tried to take from African Americans.
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Francisco “Paros” Baltazar, Pascua Yaqui Regalia, Tucson, AZ
Paros Baltazar makes traditional regalia worn in the Yaqui Deer Dance ceremony of the Pascua Yaqui people. He prepares Yaqui youth for the ceremony and teaches them to make regalia. He has been dancing in ceremony since he was five years old and learned the regalia artforms from Luis Maaso, an elder from the Rio Yaqui community. He is committed to ensuring that the deer dance continues and works with Yaqui children, preparing them for the dance and teaching the art of regalia. He will work with his daughter, Leilani Perez, to make regalia for the annual Cuaresma ceremony, teaching her to make abalone shell necklaces, embroidery, and handkerchieves.
Alicia Jewelryman-Billie, Navajo Leatherwork and Adornment, Tucson, AZ
Alicia Jewelryman-Billie makes Navajo leatherwork, in the form of cedar and tobacco bags and buckskin medicine and ceremonial pouches. Growing up, Alicia attended many different ceremonial gatherings with her grandmothers, observing how they used pouches in ceremony. She learned leatherwork from her maternal grandmother, a moccasin-maker, rug weaver, and woven basket maker; and the art of adornment–beadwork, stitch-work and fringe designs–from her paternal grandmother. Alicia will work with her son, Aiden Wyaco, teaching him the history, purpose, design, and creation of the bags.
Quinton Antone, Silversmith, Tucson, AZ
Quinton Antone (Tohono O’odham Nation/Kiowa) is a silversmith who grew up watching his uncle Duke Sine (Apache) create intricate paintings. He later learned techniques such as overlay, sawing, and polishing from Tohono O’odham silversmiths James Fedenheim and Rick Manuel. These teachers encouraged him to continue, giving him permission to use their signature cactus motifs and other O’odham designs. Quinton’s work incorporates desert landscapes and animals, including turtles, horned toads, and lizards and communicates the relationship between the O’odham and the land and everything that inhabits it. “In our cosmology, everything has a spirit–the natural features of our landscape and all the animals that inhabit it have a place in maintaining the balance of the universe,” he says. He will work with Bruce Donahue, from the Chukut Kuk District of the Tohono O’odham Nation, to pass on the form.
Ronald Geronimo, Tohono O’odham Singer, Ge’e Oidag (Big Field) in the Sells district of the Tohono O’odham Nation
Ronald Geronimo began learning traditional songs from the late Danny Lopez, along with other male elders in his community, most of whom have passed. Ronald views singing less of an artform and more of a way to continue culture and tradition. “A few years back, the oldest elder in the community presented a rattle to me and told me that he had a dream that I was going to be the one to keep our songs alive. I am trying to live up to that dream,” Ronald says. One of last living male singers in his community, Ronald will pass the tradition along to his son, Michael Geronimo.
Stanley Cruz, Tohono O’odham Language Bearer & Singer, Pisinemo District on the Tohono O’odham Nation
Stanley Cruz is a language keeper and culture bearer for the communities of the Pisinemo District on the Tohono O’odham Nation. Stanley learned the O’odham language from his parents and now speaks with his seven siblings in O’odham. Language, he says, connects his community to who they are and provides deeper understanding of ceremonies. Stanley’s apprentice will be his nephew, Alison Antone, who he will teach by immersion, focusing on conversational O’odham, connection to historic sites, cultural practices, ceremonies, and self-empowerment.
John C. Contreras, Mariachi Musician, Educator & Director, Tucson, AZ
John Conteras is a mariachi musician and has served as the director of the award-winning Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School for the past 20 years. Mariachi music comes from a mestizaje (mixture) of Indigenous roots, Spanish instruments, and West African rhythms. The artform has been an integral part of John’s life since age three, when his father taught him to play the guitar. He sought out after-school mariachi programs and attended the Tucson International Mariachi Conference, where he was mentored by the groups Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and Mariachi Cobre. Later, he studied with Maestro Heriberto Molina, and also began to record his own work. John will apprentice Vicente Miranda Leon, Jr., teaching him how to direct and manage a full Mariachi ensemble, while passing along deeper knowledge of the origins of the art form.