Sue Yeon Park has been named as a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow. She has received this honor in recognition for her work as a Korean musician and dancer who has worked for nearly three decades bringing traditional Korean arts to American audiences. She is the first Korean American artist to receive this honor.
The National Heritage Fellowship is a lifetime honor presented to master folk and traditional artists by the National Endowment for the Arts. It can be awarded only once to an individual and is considered the highest honor by the United States government has given to distinguished folk and traditional artists. Fellows must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States to be eligible for this award, which is similar to Korea’s and Japan’s “Living National Treasure” recognition.
Sue Yeon Park, one of the foremost Korean artists in the United States today, is a traditional dancer and musician who specializes in Seungmu (Buddhist ritual dance) and Salpuri-chum (Shaman Ritual Dance). Trained under Master Yi Mae Bang, one of South Korea’s Living National Treasures, she now holds the prestigious title of yisuja, designating her mastery at the highest level of Master Yi’s performance lineage of Salpuri-chum. She also holds the title of distinction, jeonsuja, for the preservation of Seungmu.
Immigrating to the United States in 1982, she founded the cultural group, The Korean Traditional Performing Arts Association (KTPAA), in order to teach young people and to continue performing Korean music and dance traditions. Her performing group, Sounds of Korea, has been featured at festivals and performance venues across the United States including Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, and Kaye Playhouse in New York City, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Park also has been a regular instructor at Camp Friendship, an organization in New Jersey that serves Korean-born adopted children, and she initiated her own program to bring some of those students to Korea for an intensive workshop program in Korean performing arts. She is a recipient of the New York Governor’s 2004 “Award of Excellence” in recognition of her outstanding achievements and community service to the Empire State; “Best Artist of the Year” Award from the Foundation for Korean Arts and Culture in Korea; and the “Award of Recognition and Appreciation” from Asian American Cultural Center at Rutgers University for her dedication to Korean art and music.
The National Heritage Fellowship program began in 1982 to honor artists whose excellence and dedication enriches the dynamic and varied culture of the United States. One of the most important National Endowment for the Arts initiatives, this program annually honors ten to twelve artists who have been nominated by the public as master in their field. Since its beginning in 1982, the 327 fellowship recipients have included Native American basket weavers, African American blues musicians, traditional fiddlers, Mexican American accordionists, and all manner of traditional artisans and performers from numerous ethnic backgrounds. These have included Michael Flatley, Irish-American step dancer; “Bessie” Jones, Georgia Sea Island singer; Almeda Riddle, Arkansas ballad singer; and Qi Shu Feng, New York-Beijing opera performer.
The NEA National Heritage Fellowship program will award $20,000 to each recipient at the banquet, award ceremonies, and concert which will occur over the period September 16-19, 2008, held at the White House, Washington, D.C.