For more than four decades, Jim Griffith has been devoted to celebrating and honoring the folkways and religious expression found along the United States-Mexico border. “Big Jim,” as he is affectionately known, is the personification of the intent of the Bess Lomax Hawes Fellowship due to his influential work both as an academic and public folklorist that has proliferated into numerous cultural ventures, including directing the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona and founding the annual Tucson Meet Yourself Festival.
Born in Santa Barbara, California, Griffith came to Tucson in 1955 to attend the University of Arizona, where he received three degrees, including a PhD in cultural anthropology and art history. From 1979 to 1998, Griffith led the university’s Southwest Folklore Center, dedicated to defining, illuminating, and presenting the character of the Greater Southwest. In 1974, Griffith co-founded Tucson Meet Yourself, a festival that celebrates Tucson’s ethnic and cultural diversity, with more communities participating every year.
The festival currently draws more than 100,000 participants annually. Griffith has written several books on southern Arizona and northern Mexico folk and religious art traditions, including Hecho a Mano: The Traditional Arts of Tucson’s Mexican American Community and Saints of the Southwest. In addition, Griffith has hosted Southern Arizona Traditions, a television spot on KUAT-TV’s Arizona Illustrated program. He has curated numerous exhibitions on regional traditional arts including La Cadena Que No Se Corta/The Unbroken Chain: The Traditional Arts of Tucson’s Mexican American Community at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.
Griffith has been honored for his distinguished service to folklore and the state of Arizona with awards such as the 2005 Henry Glassie Award and the 2009 Pima County Library Lifetime Achievement Award and served as the Grand Marshall for the 2010 Tucson Rodeo Parade. His professional commitment has always been to understand the cultures of the Southwest region and to pass along that knowledge and understanding to the public as respectfully and accurately as possible.
NEA National Heritage Fellow: Jim Griffith, Tucson, AZ Folklorist