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Tucson, Meet Southwest Folklife Alliance

For nearly 45 years, Tucsonans have gathered to indulge—and sometimes overindulge—in the cultural foods that recently put our city at the forefront of a global culinary experience.

Tucson is the first U.S. city to be recognized as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy and at Tucson Meet Yourself, you can enjoy food from dozens of home cooks and vendors including The O’odham Ladies, Matilde’s Sonoran Kitchen, and Tucson Chinese Christian Church. This annual three-day event celebrates the living traditional arts of Southern Arizona’s and Northern Mexico’s diverse ethnic and folk communities.

Tucson Meet Yourself is the best-known program run by the nonprofit Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA), a recent NPLF borrower. SFA builds more equitable and vibrant communities by celebrating “everyday expressions of culture, heritage and diversity in the southwestern United States.” Those everyday expressions—things we make, say, or do with shared meaning in our small groups—are called “folklife” and happen when we are gathered together as families, cultures, colleagues, and volunteers.

Among SFA’s many offerings is an exploration of cultural approaches to the end of life by citizen folklorists who map and document local traditions associated with death and dying. The end of life means different things to different people, and folklorists’ interviews, photos and reports support our continuing conversation about the end of life through varying cultural lenses.

SFA Looks Ahead

“I always say that the day you become an adult in the nonprofit world is the day your organization establishes a working capital reserve fund. The Southwest Folklife Alliance has started one with a private gift of $15,000, but we are a two-year-old precocious nonprofit and we are working on increasing the fund over the next three years,” said Dr. Alvarez.

In the meantime, NPLF offers advantages that she appreciates: understanding of nonprofit accrual accounting, and knowledge and understanding of our local community.

Dr. Alvarez is thinking about loans as strategic investments too, because loans can help lay the groundwork that makes a nonprofit more competitive for grant funding. “The old model is to get a grant first to pay for a program; if you don’t get the grant, you don’t do the program.” With NPLF, nonprofits like SFA can invest in programs upfront and repay the loan when grant monies come in. NPLF also provides financial training to nonprofit professionals and board members to help them better analyze strategic investments and risk.

More about SFA and Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D.

The Southwest Folklife Alliance is an affiliate non-profit organization of the University of Arizona (UA), College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The nonprofit is the designated Folk Arts Partner of the Arizona Commission on the Arts with the support of the National Endowment of the Arts.

Dr. Alvarez is an anthropologist, folklorist, curator, and community arts expert. In addition to serving as SFA’s Executive Director, she holds a dual appointment as Associate Research Professor in the UA School of Anthropology and Public Folklorist at the UA’s Southwest Center in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

NPLF Helps with Cash Flow

Tucson Meet Yourself, held each October, is a huge undertaking every year. Funding comes from grants, earned income and sponsorships, but it doesn’t necessarily arrive the same time the bills do.

Securing a loan from NPLF meant this year’s TMY vendors were paid quickly. “We are in the business of relationships. I don’t want to tell our vendors, many of which are small businesses, to wait until after the holidays,” said SFA Executive Director Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D. “I was able to leave town in December and not have in the back of my mind that I still owe a vendor. And they don’t have to hope the check arrives to pay staff who in turn have to pay their mortgage companies.”

Dr. Alvarez learned about NPLF from a newsletter published by the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona. She was familiar with nonprofit loan funds because a west coast arts nonprofit she ran received loans from a California loan fund before the nonprofit established a working capital reserve fund.