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Northwest Folklife Prioritizes Youth Creativity and Financial Freedom Through Internship Program

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Edited by Gurjot Kang

Interns from the Cultural Creative Workforce Development program pose with Blue Cones Studio founder and artist Carolyn Hitt (bottom row, center) after a cohort visit to Vermillion and Blue Cone Studios on April 14, 2022. (Photo/Reese Tanimura)

Northwest Folklife is known for its vibrant annual festival where hundreds of festival goers celebrate art, music, food, and performances. However, the free-spirited organization isn’t as well known for its Cultural Creative Workforce Development (CCWD) program.

Since 2019, Northwest Folklife, in collaboration with the Seattle Office of Economic Development and the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, has arranged local internship opportunities with notable organizations such as Velocity, Earwig Studio, REDEFINE Magazine, Milli Agency, Ground Zero Radio, and The Rhapsody Project. These internships provide youth between the ages of 16 to 26 a community, mentorship, and a stipend for all their hard work.

The program was first piloted by the Seattle Music Commission while Reese Tanimura, Managing Director of Northwest Folklife, served on the board back in 2015. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the commission was unable to move forward with the program at the time, according to Tanimura. Nevertheless, Tanimura didn’t want to abandon the possibility of starting an amazing program that would offer more opportunities for young local creatives and artistic communities in Seattle to express themselves and showcase their wonderful work.

Determined more than ever, Tanimura worked together with a former colleague Alex Rose, the Creative Economy Advocate for the commission to bring the program instead to Northwest Folklife alongside an existing network of studios, publications, creative directors, and program managers excited to participate and help out with the CCWD Program. Throughout this network, creative organizations were able to reach out and open doors to internships available to other young creatives. Such was the case for Kelly Langeslay, a dancer, who learned about the summer programming internship at Velocity Dance Center through her active connection to the Seattle dance community.

Nestled in the back of Victrola Coffee and Art Cafe in Capitol Hill, Langeslay patiently waits for their colleague Natalie Sernandi, another dancer part of the Velocity summer programming internship. Together, they excitedly go over admin projects for the upcoming Seattle Festival of Dance and Improvisation (SFD+I), taking place later this summer from July 16 to August 13. For Langeslay and Sernandi, the internship with Velocity provides them with a unique chance to learn more about the ins and outs of the production side of dance performances—a topic they’ve both been curious about for a while now.

“As someone who’s looking to produce my own work in the future, it’s like I’m just starting on that, and I think it’ll be good practice,” said Langeslay.

Thus far, their internship has included a wide range of tasks from coordinating production schedules for dancers to communicating with potential donors for the SFD+I to producing performances for the upcoming festival. For these interns, Velocity is not just an internship but a community where they can further explore their passion for dance.

“When I was 15, I took my first class…that was just like a little more out of the box and experimental,” said Sernadi. “And I remember…how much fun it was and that sparked something. [Since] then, I started to seek out more Velocity classes.”

The Velocity internship provides its participants insight into an entirely different side of the world of dance. For its interns, the ability to explore this side through a paid opportunity makes quite the difference. Both Langeslay and Sernandi divulged the difficulties of balancing a job that sustains their basic needs with their own burning desire to dedicate time toward their passion. Langeslay, in particular, emphasized how capitalism often limits the potential to dive deeper into her creative side.

Tanimura understood the amount of time that was needed from any young creative trying to build experience and do what they love. With that in mind, CCWD was designed as a program that would alleviate such burdens by compensating interns for their work without doubting the effort they put into their planned three to six-month-long creative project.

“[Including] education and viable work experience was important,” said Tanimura. “It makes it more possible for an individual to focus on finishing education or getting more education when they can support their basic needs.”

Tanimura’s previous experience of working as a youth education coordinator and a federal grant funding program manager solidified their skills to lead the CCWD program. But more than their practical skills, Tanimura’s personal experiences as an artist let them bring insight and empathy to the role. Tanimura understands what many creatives, young and old, deal with on a day-to-day basis. That’s why they wanted to create a welcoming and expressive space that embraces the intersectional experiences and identities of the artists who might be struggling to provide for themselves and their families by juggling two or three jobs—in addition to finding time for their creative interests.

For Abigail Bronwyn, a former intern in the program, their new position as Assistant Sound Engineer at Earwig Studio gave them the space to reduce their hours at a different part-time job. This allowed Bronwyn to dedicate more of their time to developing their technical and creative skills in music. Unlike their previous internship with Earwig, Bronwyn would now receive compensation thanks to the CCWD program.

So far, this internship has given Bronwyn the incredible opportunity to learn more about the various aspects of running a recording studio session — a skill they believe will be incredibly vital in the long run. This opportunity has allowed Bronwyn to further strengthen their skills in the recording booth.

“I definitely became a lot more confident during the internship in my skill set,” said Bronwyn. “And I also became more confident with the reality. Because in actual practice, not everything is as straightforward as it might be like when you’re learning from YouTube videos or a textbook.”

Bronwyn’s role includes learning how to set up microphones to capture the perfect audio, figuring out signal flow, and double-checking the position of plugs. They were also given plenty of room to ask questions and learn while on the job.

For Bronwyn, the internship also provided the opportunity to further develop their interpersonal skills by working with clients. Bronwyn quickly picked up on clients who knew exactly what they wanted from Earwig during their session vs. those who weren’t opposed to trying something new.

Reflecting upon their interactions, Bronwyn mentions a memorable experience developing a synth line with a client. Bronwyn also shared a tip they learned from their mentor, Don Farwell, to lower the microphone so clients can manually raise it to boost their confidence. It’s little moments and lessons like this that matter the most to Bronwyn.

The mentorship element of the CCWD internships is essential in providing youth with the guidance and support they need to meet their goals. Farwell, one of the mentors in the program and owner/engineer of Earwig Studio, established the assistant sound engineer internship when Tanimura notified him of the existence of the CCWD program. Their friendship began when they met each other at Rain City Rock Camp many years ago and with Tanimura recording their own music at the original Earwig Studio. This connection and experience as creatives are what geared both of them to create such a position.

Farwell acknowledges the often exclusive, low-wage opportunities the creative community usually offers. As a result, through this internship, Farwell wanted to provide more opportunities to underrepresented individuals in what historically has been a white, straight, male-dominated field.

“That is really paramount to me that people who fit that description feel safe in [the] studio, and I’ve always felt that way,” said Farwell. “I hope and feel that I’m a good communicator to let people know that this is what I’m about; this is what I’m trying to do. If there are things that make you feel unsafe, I encourage you to come to me, and we will fix those issues right away.”

Farwell developed a position that would offer flexibility for anyone with different degrees of experience in sound engineering to further build on their skills. By the end of the internship, the goal is for the intern to become comfortable with running a studio session independently.

Unfortunately, Farwell will be unable to work with the CCWD program in developing more internship positions due to rising rent prices that are causing him to move Earwig Studio from its location in Seattle to Tacoma.

Amid rising rent costs, many creatives have been hit hard–begging the question: what creative spaces and businesses will be priced out of the city next?

In the past, young creative interns have expressed the need to take on another full-time job in order to afford the median rate for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle, which typically sits at around $2,034. Thankfully, creative career-connected programs, like the CCWD program, are setting a new precedent within the industry by opening up a larger conversation about the wages required to sustain Seattle’s status as an artistic and welcoming hub for young creatives, well into the future.


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