Contact The NJ State Council
on the Arts
Mailing Address:
NJ State Council on the Arts
P.O. Box 306
Trenton, NJ 08625-0306

Office Address:
33 West State Street, 4th Floor
Trenton, NJ 08608

Tel: (609) 292-6130
NJ Relay: 711


From Cape May to The Palisades, New Jersey is home to diverse communities with traditional folk arts, shaped by the aesthetics and values of the cultures they represent. The State Arts Council is committed to supporting the artists at the heart of these communities, working to pass distinctive art forms from one generation to the next, and preserve their cultural legacy.
Each year the New Jersey State Council on the Arts awards Folk Arts Apprenticeship Grants to help Apprentice artists hone their skills under the guidance of a Master artist in the same craft. Here we shine a light on their work: from them, to us, to you, we are "Passing It On".

Grand Opening of NJ's Fifth Folklife Center
A Day to Celebrate the Cultural Diversity of North Jersey

Peruvian Dancers, Rosa Carhuallanqui (right) and Antonio Chávez (left) performing at the grand opening celebration of the Folklife Center of Northern New Jersey, May 21, 2019.

The day's special grand opening event, co-sponsored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, took place at the locale of the new Folklife Center of Northern New Jersey, nestled inside the Passaic County Community College's Cultural Affairs Department in Paterson. Within the historical walls of the Hamilton Club Building, sounds, sights, and tastes of diverse cultures swelled, and filled guests with the lively delight of jubilation. The new Center's mission is to support an array of regional folk arts and artists through performances, exhibitions, demonstrations, and workshops. Ready and activated to promote opportunities for sharing and sustaining folklife, the FCNNJ now joins the State's network of four other Folklife Centers: the Folklife Program for New Jersey at Middlesex County Cultural & Heritage Commission, the Jersey Shore Folklife Center at Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen's Museum, the Folklife Center at Perkins Center for the Arts, and the Down Jersey Folklife Center at Wheaton Arts & Cultural Center.

Numerous cultural traditions were represented at the grand opening festivities, including Andean Music, Peruvian Dance and Music, Bangladeshi Henna Art, Mexican Mariachi, piquant cuisine from an array of local communities, and that's just the beginning. There will be more to come, as Susan Balik, Director of the FCNNJ, said "Paterson itself is an incredibly diverse city, but we're not stopping with Paterson". The plan is to extend beyond the boundaries of the city to identify rich traditions of immigrant communities and culturally specific art forms all over the northern region of New Jersey, and bring them into focus. Ms. Balik offers a clear intention by adding, "Through a holistic approach, we want this Center to be a platform for the diversity of this region". With a dedicated staff in place and a vibrant community ready to share its cultural gifts, they are off to a great start!

Juan Pepe Santana being introduced by Kim Nguyen, State Arts Council Folk Arts Program Officer.
Let's hear from a few of the artists who shared their traditions with the public that day

Juan Pepe Santana, Master Andean Musician and State Arts Council Master Folk Artist,
performed with a group of skillful musicians, including his State Arts Council Apprentice, Adriana Marañon, who played the Sikus, a diatonic two row panpipe, her husband Wonsahm Chung played Charango, a 10 string small guitar-like instrument, and Peter Orozco played the Bombo, a military style of drum.

Pepe, can you speak to the experience of this event?

My experience at the Folklife Center in Paterson was a rewarding spiritual experience. The participation of our group of musicians gave me an extraordinary sense of hope. With our performance we managed to project a sense of pride for our tradition. I think that we managed to convey the idea that our music is not only the reflection of the peacefulness found in the highlands but it also has the entertaining aspect that people expect from any folk music.
PASSING IT ON: Can you tell us something about the Andean Community in NJ?

PEPE: For 54 years I have witnessed the response, enthusiasm and energy of the New Jersey Andean community. Whenever I perform Andean music in a context of a concert, festival or patronal festivities, I am sure I am offering them a window to the past. It is a needed element for their spiritual survival. It is something they can identify with. The Andean community I belong to consists of humble people, professionals, students, etc. that come from all the Andean countries. Regularly we gather to chat and play music or read poetry and plan cultural activities. There are specific groups (Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Bolivians) that frequently get together to celebrate some event ranging from religious to political. But music and dance are always there.

From Left: Juan Pepe Santana, Wonsahm Chung, Adriana Maranon, and Peter Orozco performing at the grand opening.
Samira Yeasmin, Bangladeshi Henna Artist,demonstrated her Henna designs and had the opportunity to connect with the public through her culture. Born in Bangladesh, Samira learned the basics of this tradition through her family before moving to the United States when she was 8 years old. She now lives in Paterson, New Jersey and in addition to continuing to learn the art of Henna, she recently completed her Nursing Degree at Rutgers University-Newark.
PASSING IT ON: What is the purpose of Henna for your community? How is it a part of your cultural identity?

SAMIRA: Henna in my community is linked in two different ways; in one way it is connected to my South Asian culture and another with my religion, Islam. Culturally, I have mentioned that Henna is used as a celebratory symbol and therefore is seen during weddings. However, religiously Henna is also worn during my holiday, Eid. It is also used by male members as natural hair dye and I have also heard that with regard to Islam it was linked to Prophet Mohammad, though I do not know the exact uses for it during that time period (some link it to medicinal purposes).

PASSING IT ON: How have you been keeping up with the practice of Henna and do you think the new Folklife Center could help connect community members?

SAMIRA: I rely on pictures online which I convert into my own designs and make designs based on previous art I have applied on others. I unfortunately do not get as much time to look for Henna experts within my community as I have been a full time college student sometimes working four to five part time jobs for the past four years leading me to spend most of my days on campus, at work, or in my room studying, thus YouTube was the most convenient way for me to explore my 2:00 am art cravings! However, I feel that after seeing the Folklife Center come together to celebrate different cultures, there is now a basis where people can engage in ways to share different traditions such as Henna art.

Samira Yeasmin demonstrating Henna art at the grand opening.
Rosa Carhuallanqui, Peruvian Dancer and organizer of the ensemble of Peruvian artists who performed at the grand opening, is a knowledgeable advocate for her culture. Rosa led the audience through a radiant spectrum of Peruvian performance traditions, including many songs and dances which are not widely disseminated, even in Peru. She brought together an extraordinary group of artists that day including: Milagros Albretch, a coloratura singer; Juan Colmenares, a versatile musician and master of many instruments; Néstor Aranda string musician; and Antonio Chávez, a dancer who graduated from the folklore school of Peru; and others.
PASSING IT ON: In general, what was being expressed through the songs and dances performed on this day?

ROSA: We were expressing what the true Peruvian culture is. In spite of living in another country, I hope that the influence of new genres does not change the true essence and the message of Peruvian music, song and dances.

PASSING IT ON: Can you tell us why these traditions are important to your community?

ROSA: Our tradition plays a very important role in helping the new generation continue to maintain its roots. And, continuing this tradition, we can be a part of the diversity that has magnified this beautiful country of migrants. The young people who have been born in this country have to know their roots, they can only understand where they come from through these traditions. They will know where they are going because the Peruvian culture teaches them to have self-esteem and to respect their identity so they can be creative, enterprising and good leaders.

Rosa Carhuallanqui introducing the Peruvian Dance and Music Ensemble.
PASSING IT ON: How did you feel about your experience at the grand opening?

ROSA: I was very proud to show and share what is the true Peruvian culture because there are people who appreciate cultural diversity, and I was accompanied by professional artists. We often could not perform at this level because it requires financial funding and that is what limits us to investigate, teach, lecture, publish books and especially show the general public what is Peruvian music, dancing and singing. Here there are many talented artists who are proud to maintain the Peruvian culture. In Paterson I see a great richness of cultural diversity that needs to be shown, directed, oriented, encouraged, and supported. This was a great opening of the Folklife Center of Northern New Jersey. The Center is a gateway to continue undertaking and continue to cultivate Peruvian art as part of the cultures of the world.

Peruvian Music Ensemble performing at the grand opening.
The staircase at the historic Hamilton Club Building, site of the Folklife Center of Northern New Jersey.

From the Author
Stephanie Nerbak Having the opportunity to meet, interview, and promote NJ's Folk/Traditional Artists is quite simply an honor. The artists featured in every issue of this publication are renowned in their communities, playing a vital role in keeping their cultural identities alive through the art forms they practice and master. Because they merit being experienced and celebrated, it is the Council's hope to bring these distinctive cultural traditions into focus and to share them with all New Jerseyans. I am more than happy to oblige that pursuit. In writing these issues, it is my hope that I can convey a bit of the marvel of the artists' work to you, so that you might better understand and take pride in the richness of our state's splendid diversity. Please, feel free to "pass it on"!
-Stephanie Nerbak-

The title for this publication was inspired by Rita Moonsammy's book entitled,
Passing it On, Folk Artists and Education in Cumberland County, New Jersey, published in 1992.

Click HERE for additional information about the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, their Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program and other Grant Opportunities for New Jersey's Artists.


The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, created in 1966, is a division of the NJ Department of State. The Council was established to encourage and foster public interest in the arts; enlarge public and private resources devoted to the arts; promote freedom of expression in the arts; and facilitate the inclusion of art in every public building in New Jersey. The Council receives direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey through a dedicated, renewable Hotel/Motel Occupancy fee, as well as competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. To learn more about the Council, please visit