Head named 2012 National Heritage Fellow

Published 10:50 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Al Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, has been named a recipient of one of the National Endowment for the Arts 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellowships.

Head received the Bess Lomax Hawes fellowship award, which recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.

The National Heritage Fellows recognizes folk and traditional artists for their artistic excellence and efforts to conserve America’s culture for future generations. The fellowships are the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts and include a one-time award of $25,000.

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This year, 200 nominations were reviewed for the nine fellowships. The ratio of winners to nominees indicates the select nature of this national honor.

Head, a Troy native, was recognized as a traditional arts advocate. For the first time ever, the NEA recognized a director of a state arts agency for his work in promoting the importance of the folk and traditional arts in defining and giving life to a community.

Head said that he was flattered and honored that the NEA would think him worthy of recognition as a National Heritage Fellow.

“The recognition is a tribute to a lot of good work going on in the traditional arts in Alabama,” Head said. “In looking back over the 40 years that I have been working with state arts programs, in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama, I have known and worked with a lot of special folks – talented and creative people – who have been dedicated to the preservation of the folk and traditional arts.”

Head paid tribute to Bess Lomax Hawes, an American folk musician, folklorist and researcher. Hawes was the first director of the Folk and Traditional Arts Program at the NEA and created the National Heritage Fellowship.

“I knew Beth Hawes and she was an incredibly special and remarkable person,” Head said. “To receive an award in her name is very meaningful.”

Head said that, over the years, he has been accompanied by some really outstanding folklorists and professional people in Florida, Louisianna and, especially, in Alabama.

“Most of the credit for anything that I have been able to do, goes to the other folks who do such a good job,” Head said. “The best and smartest thing that I have ever done is surround myself with extremely capable and creative people.”

Head said that he is proud to be home in Alabama and working with “truly remarkable” people who are dedicated to the arts and to the preservation of the folk and traditional arts, which hold a special place in his heart.

Mack Gibson, chair of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center, said that he knows of no one more deserving of the honor of a National Heritage Fellow than Head.

“Al Head has been a superb leader of the arts in Alabama,” Gibson said. “He has moved Alabama ahead of many states in the arts, especially the folk and traditional arts. He has been a great friend to the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center and to the entire state. This recognition is well deserved – totally deserved.”

Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage also congratulated Head and said that the city has benefited greatly from the support of the state council on the arts.

“The folklife presentations at the We Piddle Around Theater here in Brundidge have been supported from day one by the state arts council,” Ramage said. “These folklife presentations bring much positive recognition to our city and also provide many opportunities for our people. We have the leadership of Al Head to thank.”

Head is the only state arts director to start folk arts programs in three states – Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Troy University, where he was quarterback on the Trojans 1968 NAIA national championship football team. He received his master’s degree from Auburn University at Montgomery.

In 1974, he received an NEA fellowship to attend Harvard’s Arts Administration Institute. He served as executive director at the Stephen Foster Folklife Center (1975-77) and the Louisiana Division of the Arts (1977-85) before becoming executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

Head also served two terms on the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies board and, in 1998, NASSA presented him with the Gary Young Award for his leadership and achievements in promoting the arts nationally.

Head has also served as a member of the South Arts board for 35 years, presiding as its chair 1983-85.

Peggy Bulger, a former director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, described Head as “one of the most important pioneers in arts administration to recognize and embrace the folk and traditional arts.”

Head and the other eight 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellowships awardees will be honored in Washington, DC, in October for a series of events including an awards presentation and banquet at the Library of Congress.