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PRESS RELEASE: Secretary of State Announces Recipients of the 2024 Florida Folk Heritage Award

Tallahassee, Fla. –

Secretary of State Cord Byrd announced the recipients of the 2024 Florida Folk Heritage Award today. The award is given to outstanding folk artists and advocates who have made longstanding contributions to Florida’s folklife and cultural resources. The 2024 award recipients are Julia Belen Alverio, Marisol Blanco, Jude “Papaloko” Thegenus, and the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami. Awards will be presented at a ceremony in conjunction with the Florida Artist Hall of Fame later this year.

“The award-winning Florida Folklife Program continues to support traditional arts and artists in our state,” said Secretary Cord Byrd. “The strength and talent of these artists will lead us to discover traditional art forms and appreciation of heritage that will benefit all Floridians.”


Marisol Blanco

Marisol Blanco has spent her life teaching and performing Afro-Cuban arts and culture. She started dancing in her native Cuba at the age of five, and by sixteen she was teaching Afro-Cuban dance classes. She concordantly learned bata, the syncopated ritual drumming style traditionally only taught to men, and became a member of Obini Bata, Cuba's first female percussion ensemble. In 2008, Marisol completed an MFA in Dance at the Cuban Superior Arts Institute. Shortly after, Marisol left Cuba to care for her family in the United States.  Due to the political conflict between the United States and Cuba, Marisol lost her master's degree. Despite this setback, she persevered and made Miami her permanent home. In 2009, Marisol founded the organization called Sikan Afrocuban Dance Project. Originally a music therapy group, it has grown to become a dance company that performs traditional dance with Marisol throughout Florida and the United States. She served as a master artist in the 2013 Florida Folklife Apprenticeship program. This opportunity provided Marisol a push forward in her career as a folkloric artist, introducing her to a broader academic audience in her new home of Miami and across the United States.


Marisol Blanco (Courtesy of Marisol Blanco)


Julia Belen Alverio

Julia Belen Alverio is a master lacemaker in the intricate art of Puerto Rican Mundillo bobbin lace. Using a Mundillo box, Belen makes lace by twisting and crossing thread with numerous bobbins. Originally hailing from Loiza, Puerto Rico, Belen grew up enamored by Puerto Rican textile traditions; her childhood nickname was “Retacitos”, or “Scraps” for how she collected fabric samples to practice with. She studied Mundillo in Moca, Puerto Rico, a town called “The Cradle of Mundillo,  and apprenticed with master artist Edna Pomales. When Belen and her husband moved to Orlando, Belen founded Las Damas Del Mundillo Orlando, a women’s Mundillo group. Belen has since converted her garage to a Mundillo studio where more than a dozen women craft together every week. In 2023, she was a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program, teaching Mundillo to the newest member of the group, Annie Garcia, as well as exhibiting with Annie at the 2023 Florida Folk Festival. Mrs. Alverio is a technically gifted artist and the lynchpin of this tradition vibrant in Orlando’s Puerto Rican diaspora.


Julia Belen Alverio (Courtesy of the Florida Folklife Program)


Jude “Papaloko” Thegenus

Multi-talented artist and Vodou Oungan (priest) Jude “Papaloko” Thegenus was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1964 but moved to the seaside town of Jacmel as a boy. Thegenus painted, sang, and danced from a young age, but he “felt the drum” at 12.  He began to study Vodou and play percussion in ceremonies during local festivities.  After settling in Miami in 1987, Thegenus founded Papaloko & Loray Mistik, a band that plays Vodou music as well as Vodou pop—a fusion of traditional Haitian instruments and rhythms with West African percussion, rock and roll, blues, and hip-hop. During performances, the group also presents ritual dances, prayers, body painting, and other religious arts that not only entertain but also educate the audience about Haitian culture.  The band has gained a reputation for being a late-night favorite at the Florida Folk Festival, often playing the Heritage Dance Stage on Saturday nights. Thegenus’ paintings and sculpture are eclectic and riveting, often focusing on the Vodou pantheon, Haitian history, and social issues.  In 1999, he founded Jakmel Art Gallery, which exhibits his work, as well as that of other local artists, and offers events and musical performances by Papaloko and Loray Mistik. The strength of Thegenus’ work undoubtedly derives not only from his talent but also from his powerful ties to Haitian arts and Vodou.


Jude Thegenus. (Courtesy of the Florida Folklife Program)


The Ukrainian Dancers of Miami

For 75 years, the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami have preserved and promoted Ukraine’s culture through traditional music and dance performances. Composed of Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans, the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami are committed to educating others in the traditions of their ethnic heritage and keeping the legacy of Ukrainian dance alive. Operating out of the Ukrainian-American Club of Miami, they are one of Miami’s oldest continuously operated traditional dance troupes. Founded by Taras Maksymovich in 1941, the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami first performed at a 1949 YMCA festival. Now directed by Taras’ granddaughter Donna Maksymowich-Waskiewicz, the ensemble performs dances from several regions of Ukraine, from Poltava to Hutsulshchyna, wearing traditional costumes that are authentic to each region. The troupe also hosts an annual “Ukrainian Montage” performance, now in its 30th year, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. In addition to this annual show and its many presentations across the state, the ensemble participates in the various cultural events and holidays celebrated by the Ukrainian community. In 2021, they performed at CultureFest 305 at the HistoryMiami museum and served as HistoryMiami’s folklife Artists-in-Residence in 2022. Since the beginning of the Ukraine War in 2022, they have used their performances to raise funds to support refugees from that war. An ensemble made of Ukrainian-Americans of all ages, the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami dance troupe is dedicated to the proliferation of traditional arts as well as the vitality of the social lives of Miami’s Ukrainian community.


The Ukrainian Dancers of Miami. (Courtesy of HistoryMiami)



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About the Florida Folk Heritage Awards

Based on public nominations and recommendations from the Florida Folklife Council, the Secretary of State confers Florida Folk Heritage Awards annually. Awards are given to outstanding Folk Artists and Folk Culture Advocates who have made long-standing contributions to the folk cultural resources of the state. Established in 1985, the program parallels the National Heritage Fellowships and honors the state’s most influential tradition bearers and folk advocates for excellence, significance, and authenticity in terms of traditional arts. To make a nomination, contact Florida Folklife Program Director Dominick Tartaglia at 850.245.6482.


About the Florida Folklife Program

The Florida Folklife Program, a component of the Florida Department of State's Division of Arts and Culture, documents and presents Florida’s folklife, folklore, and folk arts. Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the program coordinates a wide range of activities and projects designed to increase the awareness of Floridians and visitors alike about Florida’s traditional culture. Established in 1979 by the legislature to document and present Florida folklife, the program is one of the oldest state folk arts programs in the nation. For more information, visit