Kristin Sullivan, director of the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions, is conducting a community meeting in Aberdeen on Tuesday as part of her statewide search for information.

Nonprofit effort seeks to preserve cultural traditions

Kristin Sullivan is traveling all over the state to learn how its various communities celebrate and maintain their heritage, and Aberdeen is next on her list.

She’s spearheading the development of the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions, a nonprofit program to preserve and support “anything that relates to our community’s identity and heritage and is expressed in some way,” she says, “be it art or the performance of everyday life.”

This means the definition of traditions won’t be limited to things like music, cooking and crafts; the center also will document razor clamming, fishing and logging techniques, for example. Toward that end, they’ll be studying a wide array of cultures.

“We’re looking at Native American communities, of course, but also newer immigrants to Washington — the cultural traditions they’re bringing from their home countries and how they’ve had to change or adapt in Washington and why,” says Sullivan.

She moved here from Maryland last October as a contracted anthropologist for Humanities Washington, then was named director of the program in March. During the past year, she’s worked with representatives of museums, historical societies, Native American communities and others, trying to determine “where we’d fit in and where we could do the best work.” These community meetings are an extension of that effort.

The program will be housed at the Humanities Washington offices in Seattle and operated in partnership with the Washington State Arts Commission and Northwest Heritage Resources.

“It’s not a physical center; it’s not going to be a place where people can go,” says Sullivan. “It’s more of a programmatic or virtual center.”

They’re starting out with two immediate goals. First is the creation of an apprenticeship program: pairing up masters (defined by their community) with apprentices to pass along art forms or skills related to specific traditions.

“Pairs of individuals can apply for funding to support education throughout the course of a year,” says Sullivan, “and then we’ll put on a public program related to that at the end of that time.” This element will be launched in 2018, she says.

The second short-term goal is to identify and document what Sullivan calls “tradition bearers” — people who are recognized within their communities as having some deep knowledge of a specific skill or tradition. The center will collect recorded interviews, videos of their processes of creation, photographs of the things they make or use, etc., then conduct interactive public events based on that information.

“Eventually that’s going to be a statewide effort,” she says. “But we’re going to start in King County and the Yakima Valley, then move elsewhere in the state in 2019 and beyond.”

This Tuesday’s community meeting — one of 16 Sullivan is conducting across the state — is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Aberdeen Museum of History, 111 E. Third St. It will start with a one-hour presentation by Sullivan, followed by a Q&A and sharing of ideas. It’s free, and no preregistration is required.

“I really would encourage anybody who’s interested in the arts, in heritage and in history to come out to this meeting,” she says. “I’d just love to hear from folks and get their input as we’re developing this program.

“I love the conversations we’re having at these meetings,” she adds. “I learn something new every time.”

For more information, contact Sullivan at 206-682-1770, ext. 107, or; or visit the center’s website:


photos Courtesy Kristin Sullivan A rosemaling artist demonstrates her work in Bothell during Nordic Heritage Day in March. This form of decorative art originated in the lowland areas of Eastern Norway. Though most often a style of painting, rosemaling appears in carved wood as well.

Photos courtesy Kristin Sullivan John Speer of Shelton digs for clams during the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival in April. Razor clams have been a food staple for people along the Washington Coast for centuries, and clamming techniques have evolved during that time.

Neha Babuta applies a henna design during the Kent International Festival in June. Henna is a plant used to create a reddish-brown dye in many South Asian, Middle Eastern and Northern African cultures. Mehandi (the art of applying henna to hands and feet) is usually done for celebrations and rites of passage.