Student and instructor in a TAPS JAM program. Photo by Zoe van Buren

Passing It On: Traditional Arts Programs For Students

Author: Zoe van Buren

Traditional Arts Programs for Students (TAPS) is a statewide network of afterschool programs created by the North Carolina Arts Council in response to community requests for traditional arts education that is taught locally, knee-to-knee and across generations. TAPS programs across the state represent the diversity of North Carolina’s cultural life and heritage. Each program is uniquely shaped by its community, but all share three core values:

  • Programs are affordable, and often free.
  • Students learn the traditional arts of their own region, from teachers within their community.
  • Music is taught by ear, and crafts are taught by hand.

The traditional artists leading each TAPS program teach more than the arts; they imbue their instruction with the cultural attitudes and values that have upheld and enlivened generations of families and neighbors in their regions. TAPS instructors share affection and respect for the traditions that have shaped their lives, and that now shape the lives of the next generation.

Kids in a TAPS JAM program practicing banjo
TAPS Students practicing the banjo

Over the Mountains

The mountains of Western North Carolina are the birthplace of TAPS, where the cultures of indigenous Cherokee, enslaved and free African Americans, and European settlers laid the fertile ground of Appalachian music and dance.

Many TAPS programs in mountain counties are part of Junior Appalachian Musicians Inc. (JAM), founded in 2000 by an Alleghany County guidance counselor at Sparta School named Helen White. JAM laid the groundwork for the TAPS model, and today JAM programs can be found teaching traditional Appalachian music and dance across the mountain south.

TAPS students in JAM classes across the mountains have gone on to start their own string bands, perform professionally across the state, and even return to teach the classes they once took.

Girls in traditional Korean dresses dancing at the Triangle Korean School
Students performing at the Triangle Korean School TAPS Program

Across the Piedmont

The NC Arts Council’s Folklife Program expanded the JAM model to include other forms of traditional arts across the entire state, creating TAPS to help preserve and perpetuate all of North Carolina’s traditional arts and music.

The clay-rich hills around Seagrove, North Carolina are home to the nation’s longest continual pottery tradition. The TAPS program at the North Carolina Pottery Center teaches the generations-old practice of hand-turned pottery that has defined the area since the 1700s. Students learn at the wheel of artists like Sid Luck, an NC Heritage Award recipient, whose family has thrown pots in Seagrove for six generations and counting.

At Raleigh’s Triangle Korean School (pictured above), TAPS students celebrate the culture of one of the fastest-growing communities of new North Carolinians through traditional Korean drumming, cultural etiquette, and K-Pop, a cornerstone of Korean culture’s international identity.

Students at the Haliwa Saponi TAPS Program
Students at the Haliwa Saponi TAPS Program

Into the Coastal Plain

Where the Piedmont meets the Coastal Plain in Halifax and Warren Counties, the TAPS program of the Haliwa-Saponi Indian tribe teaches tribal arts to the next generation. As students, and even their parents, learn to wrap drum sticks, build pottery, and create powwow regalia, they express pride in themselves and their people.

In the urban hubs of Eastern North Carolina, where a legacy of African American jazz, funk, R&B and gospel holds strong, TAPS programs in Greenville and Kinston are dedicated to their region’s African American musical heritage. A long line of devoted high school music teachers and educators have traditionally passed this music from one generation to the next. In Kinston and Greenville, TAPS keeps this tradition of mentorship alive.

Explore More

TAPS allows the power of the traditional arts to bring creativity, meaning, and structure to the lives of young people, and to help them understand the grassroots brilliance of the places they call home. Today, the North Carolina Arts Council funds 22 TAPS programs based in 21 counties. 

Learn More About TAPS


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