During a couple weeks in June and July the Smithsonian Folklife Festival swings around, and thousands of locals and tourists flood the National Mall to get a taste of cultures from all around the world debuted through its festivities. Each year the two week festival chooses different cultural aspects to highlight from a certain theme, country, region, or state. In the past, programs have included “Arkansas” (1970), “African Diaspora: Ghana, Trinidad & Tobago, Nigeria, Caribbean” (1974), “Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon” (2008), and “On the Move: Migration and Immigration Today” (2016).
In 1967, Jim Morris, Smithsonian’s Director of Museum Services at the time, began the festival with the help of Secretary S. Dillon Ripley and Ralph Rinzler. The first year was a huge success, attracting around 431,000 people, and setting a precedent for the years to come.
Since then it has remained outstanding, and this summer is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a “Circus Arts” theme, exploring the vibrant history of the American circus. Festivities include acrobatic demonstrations, narrative sessions, puppet making, and an USCIS Citizenship Ceremony.
The commemoration is also featuring an “On the Move” theme which spotlights youth and migration, one similar to that of last year’s festival. In addition there is a “50 years 50 objects” exhibit, in which 50 ‘storied objects’ from previous years have been put on display. These objects range from a Bhutanese temple railing to a Junkanoo Headdress.
Over 23 thousand artisans have been able to showcase their work and skills through the festival and help keep their traditions alive. Among them are around 100 American Indian groups and 90 nations. New cultures, occupations, traditions, peoples, and countries are sure to join them and help continue the Folklife Festival’s legacy of creating a better understanding of the world through community engagement.
The festival is free to the public and takes place from June 29 to July 4 and July 6 to July 9 on the National Mall.
PHOTO BY DANIELLE BRESLOW