Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association
The art of sweetgrass basket making, iconic of South Carolina’s cultural and natural landscapes, was brought to this country over 300 years ago by enslaved West Africans. Known as the Gullah Geechee people, many African American families living in Mt. Pleasant and surrounding communities trace their direct descent from West Africans brought to America during the transatlantic slave trade. Today, local Gullah Geechee basket weavers continue this art form, passed down over generations. Since the early 1900s, sweetgrass basketry evolved from mostly utilitarian objects to become works of art, highly sought after by museums, tourists, and collectors from around the world. In 2004, a National Park Service study revealed that the Gullah Geechee people’s history, culture and traditions were among the most endangered cultural resources in the country. In response, the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association (SCAFA) was formed that year as a non-profit organization to protect and preserve the Gullah Geechee people’s interpretation of their history, culture, and traditions.
Through a host of programs and activities, the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association engages and educates the public about Gullah Geechee history, culture, traditions, and sweetgrass basketry, as well as Gullah Geechee contributions to the social, economic, political and domestic development of America. Begun in 2005, the annual Sweetgrass Festival provides basket makers the opportunity to promote and market their work and share their stories. In conjunction with the Festival, the “Real” Taste of Gullah Banquet offers attendees a more intimate and personal cultural experience, featuring a Passing on the Tradition ceremony, gospel music, and Gullah folklore and cuisine. The banquet is a fundraiser for SCAFA’s Basket Making Summer Camp, in which girls and boys between ages eight and twelve begin learning sweetgrass basketry, from harvesting the raw materials to the skills and techniques needed to make the baskets. The Festival’s Gullah Geechee Seminar presents scholars who facilitate, interpret and provide information about Gullah Geechee history and heritage, as well as contemporary issues in the community, inviting attendees to help craft solutions to such issues as heirs’ property rights and education and health disparities within the Gullah Geechee Corridor.
SCAFA’s Sweetgrass Harvesting Project addresses the impact of residential and commercial sweetgrass harvesting through partnerships with local entities to ensure access to sweetgrass in the area. SCAFA’s multi-pronged approach ensures that the sweetgrass basketry tradition will continue as a cultural, economic and educational resource for generations to come. They received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2017.