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Smithsonian Folklife Festival Introduction

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Hugh Masekela Speaking at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
South African jazz musician and activist visited the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, D.C., in 2014. During an open interview, he shared his thoughts on sustaining cultural heritage through music. Video and editing: Charlie Weber [Catalog No. CFV10977; Copyright 2018, Smithsonian Institution]

14 The Will To Adorn | Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Office of the Chief Information Officer
Diana N'Diaye presents the Smithsonian's "The Will to Adorn" app, designed to collect your stories about the choices you make everyday when you dress for school, work, fun, or special occasions. The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity is a multi-year, collaborative folk cultural research and public presentation project based at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. To learn more about the project visit http://www.festival.si.edu/2013/Will_to_Adorn/project/index.aspx. Download: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-will-to-adorn/id645183356

Smithsonian Folklife Festival Introduction (2002, Spanish Version)

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Festival Video: 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Welcome to the forty-eighth annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year we celebrate the cultures of Kenya and China. With over 120 participants from each country, this Festival is brought to life by thousands of staff, interns, and volunteers. I encourage you to join us either on the National Mall or online and explore all that these wonderful artists have brought to us. It’s my great pleasure to welcome you for the next two weeks of exploration, exchange, and engagement.

Videography and Editing: Albert Tong
Narration: Sabrina Lynn Motley

"The World's Largest Cultural Conversation": The 2010 Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Introduction to the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival and overview of Festival history.

Cross-Cultural Conversations at the Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
wo basket weavers, Ofelia Marín Márquez from Colombia’s coffee region, and Mele Vaikeli from Tonga, exchange techniques at the 2011 Folklife Festival. Photo by Sojin Kim
wo basket weavers, Ofelia Marín Márquez from Colombia’s coffee region, and Mele Vaikeli from Tonga, exchange techniques at the 2011 Folklife Festival.
Photo by Sojin Kim

The Folklife Festival has three fantastically diverse programs lined up this year: Hungarian Heritage; One World, Many Voices; and The Will to Adorn. For most of the Festival, each program group will occupy a separate section of the National Mall to share traditions and performances. But the multi-cultural nature of the Festival provides the irresistible opportunity to also explore some intersections among these groups.

This is the motivation behind “cross programs” at the Folklife Festival. These daily events (which will move around the different program stages and are marked “Cross Program” on the Festival schedule) will bring together one or two representatives from each program for a conversation about a common topic. For example: expert weavers from Bolivia, Hungary, and Ghana will compare their traditions and techniques; hairstylists will demonstrate techniques ranging from African-American dreadlocks and braids to traditional Palenque styles from Colombia; and musicians from China, The Republic of Tuva, and Hungary will discuss the relationship between their music and the natural world. Other cross program topics will include: language and identity, wedding ceremonies, clothing design, celebration traditions, and hat making.

This is an exceptional opportunity for both the participants and the public. It is a chance for visitors to hear cross-cultural panels of experts from many fields and to see the diversity of cultures represented at the Folklife Festival at one time in one place. It will also allow speakers the opportunity to share techniques and experiences with other experts in their field. With the aid of multilingual translators, dress and hair models, and handcrafted visual display items, all parties involved will hopefully gain a deeper appreciation for the enormous variety of traditions across human cultures. We hope that visitors, too, will be inspired to explore their own cultural traditions and their connections to the world around them.

Morgan Anderson recently graduated from the University of California, Davis, with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology. She is an intern with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, assisting with the One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage program.

Intangible Cultural Heritage Within Reach

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Arlean Dawes with three members of Los Masis—(L to R) Roberto Sahonero Cuéllar, Roberto Sahonero Gutiérrez, and Edgar Sahonero Gutiérrez—in the <i>One World, Many Voices</i> program. Los Masis is a group of Bolivian musicians and educators dedicated to preserving the Quechua language and indigenous Andean culture. Photo by Patti Heck
Arlean Dawes with three members of Los Masis—(L to R) Roberto Sahonero Cuéllar, Roberto Sahonero Gutiérrez, and Edgar Sahonero Gutiérrez—in the One World, Many Voices program. Los Masis is a group of Bolivian musicians and educators dedicated to preserving the Quechua language and indigenous Andean culture.
Photo by Patti Heck

Countless times throughout the Festival as I walked through the One World, Many Voices site, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to intern and work with such an amazing program.

For those two weeks on the National Mall, I was in one of the most diverse places in the world! As one participant pointed out, where else would you find Palenqueros from Colombia dancing to the music of Tuvan throat singers as Garifuna drummers added their beats on drums made from turtle shells!

During the Festival, I was assigned to one of the groups from Bolivia—Los Masis—a group of musicians and educators dedicated to elevating pride in the rich indigenous culture of Bolivia and the preservation of Quechua, one of Bolivia’s native languages, through the playing of traditional Andean music.

Since much of my work with the group involved Spanish/English interpretation, I had the pleasure of helping facilitate discussions between Los Masis and the public. The visitors and the musicians directly engaged one another in deep conversations ranging from musical education methods to native Bolivian instruments such as charangos and phututu, the intricate costumes worn when the Pujllay dance is performed, and so much more.

With each conversation, it became clear that Los Masis and the other Festival participants are fighting for the same goal: not only to preserve, but to truly revitalize, their languages and cultures in traditional and not-so-traditional ways!

Hawaiian participants pose for a group photograph by their taro plants in the One World, Many Voices program. Photo by Francisco X. Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution
Hawaiian participants pose for a group photograph by their taro plants in the One World, Many Voices program.
Photo by Francisco X. Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

The very first day the participants arrived on the Mall to prepare for the following day’s opening, I was reminded of the beauty and absolute pricelessness of intangible cultural heritage. While walking to the Hungary program’s Danubia stage where the welcome ceremony for participants was being held, I noticed a few Hawaiian delegates talking among themselves (in their native tongue of ‘O le lo Hawaiʽi, of course) and pointing to some weeds on the ground. As I continued to walk towards the big tent, a fellow intern who is Hawaiian told me that the participants were pointing out that the aforementioned “weeds” can actually be used as medicine to treat boils on the skin. How neat is that?

Less than an hour later, I was leading the Kallawaya delegation—a group of medicinal practitioners from Bolivia—to their tent when I again noticed a few participants pointing at the ground and smiling. One of the ladies proudly proclaimed in Spanish that they cultivate this type of plant for medicine.

At that point, tears started to form in my eyes as I realized how two very different groups, from very different parts of the world, even with very different languages, both recognize this same plant as a form of medicine that is useful to them, and that common knowledge and recognition is something that connects those two distinct cultures.

Arlean Dawes dances with Walter Alvarez, a Kallawaya medicinal expert from Bolivia, while Los Masis performs on the Voices of the World stage. Photo by Karon Flage
Arlean Dawes dances with Walter Alvarez, a Kallawaya medicinal expert from Bolivia, while Los Masis performs on the Voices of the World stage.
Photo by Karon Flage

Admittedly, I first felt guilty for having thought of these plants as just weeds and nothing more, but that feeling of guilt soon transitioned into a feeling of realization: this is it—intangible cultural heritage at its core! Intangible cultural heritage is the parts of culture that are not tangible—our memories that can be shared through storytelling, our songs, dances, recipes, and other knowledge that is passed down through generations.

While the Festival was filled with various physical objects from Hungarian Heritage, Will to Adorn, and the countless communities represented in the One World, Many Voices program, the amount of storytelling, dance, music, craftsmanship, and other demonstrations of intangible cultural heritage expresses exactly what the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is all about: the celebration of cultural heritage—intangible and tangible—and the celebration of those people who sing the songs, speak these languages, and make up these cultures.

Arlean Dawes was an intangible cultural heritage policy intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and gave her time and skills to work with the One World, Many Voices program at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She is an undergraduate student at Texas A&M University pursuing a double major in international studies and Spanish and a minor in Italian. She is interested in multilingual, intercultural, and literacy education as a means of language and culture preservation.

Hungarian Heritage Program Introduction

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Hungarian Heritage curators Ágnes Fülemile and Jim Deutsch introduce the program.

Hungarian Heritage Craftspeople

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured Hungarian Heritage: Roots To Revival as one of its three programs. The Festival drew hundreds of thousands of visitors in ten days. Over one hundred Hungarian participants shared their lives and culture with the public. In this video, Hungarian craftspeople demonstrate their unique expertise.

Videography by Charles Weber, Kylie Shryock, David Barnes, Pruitt Allen, and Karen Kasmauski
Edited by Jillian Reagan and Sara Legg

An-Sky Yiddish Heritage Ensemble

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The An-Sky Yiddish Heritage Ensemble performed on the “Voices of the World Stage” at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Edited by Shaun Weber

Blisters for Butter: Reflecting on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Gladys Sala Petey supervises production teams in Ghana for Shea Yeleen International.
Gladys Sala Petey supervises production teams in Ghana for Shea Yeleen International.

Before my volunteer experience at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I had reservations regarding the effectiveness of the event. When the Festival was described to me, I immediately thought of early 20th century World’s Fairs and their displays of indigenous peoples, which typically exploited minority groups for the amusement and astonishment of the American public.

Thoughts of “Exotic Others” and “Noble Savages” reverberated in my mind as I apprehensively entered the Peace Corps area on July 4, 2011 and found my station for the day, the Shea Butter tent.  At that point, as I began to remove the blue tarps from the tables and shake the water from the foldable chairs, I had no idea how my assumptions would be quickly disproven by the countless visitors to our tent, and that I would earn the “best” blisters of my life!!

As the Ghanaian women arrived at our tent, I had an immediate connection with the three of them. As a doctoral student at the University of Florida, I have traveled to Ghana for the past two summers to conduct research on Ghana’s contemporary fashion and have grown to love Ghana’s diverse peoples and cultures. The women welcomed me into their group and happily passed their oversized mortar and pestle to me (which isn’t surprising, considering how DIFFICULT pounding shea nuts can be).

We worked as a team; Gladys Sala Petey and I would switch between pounding shea nuts, and the other women would work on refining various consistencies of the shea butter. As the tent began to fill with people, I became an unofficial spokesperson for the women, explaining the process of making shea butter and soliciting help from our visitors, who were often happy to oblige.

Christopher Richards helps Gladys Sala Petey to demonstrate the shea butter production process for visitors.
Photo by Suzanne Godby Ingalsbe

Contrary to my expectations, I quickly realized that the visitors to our tent were actively learning about the creation of shea butter. As I described the process to a large group of visitors, I watched one mother turn to her husband and children to describe, almost verbatim, the various stages for producing shea butter. Concurrently, several visitors who assisted pounding shea nuts quietly reflected how they were reminded of their own past experiences in India and Brazil, where they had utilized a similar process for hulling rice.

By the end of the day, I was simply amazed at how much active learning had occurred at our booth. Not only did visitors leave us with a better understanding of the process for creating shea butter, but the production of shea butter had been humanized. Shea butter was no longer simply a product on the shelves of supermarkets, an exotic additive to lotions and shampoos; it was now connected to a group of women, to whom all of the visitors could relate. When I finally left for the day, as I felt the blisters covering my fingers, I couldn’t help but smile. I knew the blisters would ultimately disappear, but the experience and the connections I made will last a lifetime.

Christopher L. Richards is a Ph.D. student in African art history at the University of Florida. He is among 12 students who assisted Festival artists as part of the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA), a program offered by the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

The Top-Notch Team of the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The last of the equipment has been moved off the National Mall, and as we prepare to turn the page to focus our attention on the 2013 programs, we appreciate the incredibly talented and hardy participants with whom we collaborated on this summer’s Festival. We also tip our hats in profound gratitude and respect to our staff, interns, and volunteers, who endured both record high temperatures and a destructive thunderstorm with grace, resilience, and energy.

Here are some of the faces of the hundreds of folks who worked behind the scenes every day to produce the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Images by Festival photographers Pruitt Allen, Harold Dorwin, F.T. Eyre, Francisco Guerra, Walter Larrimore, and JB Weilepp are indicated in the captions. All other images provided by Betty Belanus, Josue Castilleja, Sojin Kim, Helen Klaebe, James Mayer, Jennie Terman, and Charlie Weber.

Dumpstaphunk at the 2012 Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The New Orleans-based funk band Dumpstaphunk performs “Do Ya” from their album Everybody Want Sum on the National Mall. The National Museum of African American History and Culture presented them in concert at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Production by ScreenSourceUSA

Designing and Building Hungarian Heritage

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The Hungarian Heritage program is a joint effort involving Hungarians from Hungary and Romania (Transylvania). Transylvanian architect Gyule Szilegyi discusses the different structures built on the mall by these two groups for the 2013 Folklife Festival.

Videography by Charles Weber and Kylie Shryock
Editing by Kylie Shryock

Share the Spirit of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Native Hawaiian community member from <i>One World, Many Voices</i> blesses the program grounds before the Opening Ceremony. Photo by Francisco X. Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Native Hawaiian community member from One World, Many Voices blesses the program grounds before the Opening Ceremony.
Photo by Francisco X. Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

This morning, the Secretary of the Smithsonian joined dignitaries and participants from around the world to open the 47th Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Secretary Clough reminded us all that the Festival brings the world to America’s front porch, the National Mall. It is that spirit of authenticity, open exchange, and excitement that often characterizes the Festival.

But how do you imagine the Festival? Is it America’s front porch or a Hungarian folk house? Is it a marketplace of ideas or a carnival of thrilling performances? Is it the world’s classroom or a great place to hang out with friends? Use #2013Folklife to share your thoughts, observations, and reflections.

The Festival provides unique—often unforgettable—experiences, special interactions among people that can only happen here. Whether it’s dancing with a Hungarian family, watching good people look “bad” as they strut their stuff on a runway, or witnessing a Kallawaya healing ceremony, something seriously amazing happens to most of us at the Festival. We’d love to hear what you found #seriouslyamazing!

There are lots of ways to connect to the Festival online. You can use our new app, SI Folk Fest. You can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Tumblr. We would love to see your photos and snapshots on Instagram and Flickr, tagged #2013Folklife and #seriouslyamazing. Please join the conversation and share the spirit of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival!

Introducing China at the Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Meet the China: Tradition and the Art of Living program team preparing for the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Curators Sojin Kim and Jim Deutsch share their thoughts on the significance of presenting Chinese culture on the National Mall and introduce themes of the program and members of the team.

Editing: Ed Fry
Titles: Lilli Tichinin

Introducing Kenya at the Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates the Republic of Kenya fifty years after its independence. Preston Scott, curator for Kenya: Mambo Poa, explains the program in the context of the region’s prehistoric significance and the young nation’s cultural complexity. Learn about the themes of the program and the types of crafts, foods, and music visitors can enjoy this year on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Editing: Charles Weber, Max Lenik, Nicholas Mangialardi

The 2016 Folklife Festival Opening Ceremony

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival began on June 29 with a ceremony in the Smithsonian’s newly reopened Arts and Industries Building. Between music and dance performances by artists from the Basque: Innovation by Culture and Sounds of California programs, representatives from the Smithsonian, Congress, the National Park Service, and our partners welcomed participants and visitors to the National Mall.

Meshell Ndegeocello at the 2012 Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Funk, soul, R&B, and jazz are some of the many influences on multi-instrumentalist Meshell Ndegeocello’s complex musical style. Here, she performs as part of the Bring Back the Funk concert presented by the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Production by ScreenSourceUSA

ASL Introduction to the Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

This Festival introduction is presented in American Sign Language (ASL) and captions. It explains the various means through which the Smithsonian is working to make the Festival as accessible as possible.

Filmed: M.E. Francis
Editing: Brandan Callahan
Production: Drew Robarge and Patrick Goar

Launching the 2011 Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Smithsonian Folklife Festival curatorial team doing fieldwork in Colombia
Smithsonian Folklife Festival curatorial team doing fieldwork in Colombia
Photo by and courtesy of María Angélica Rodríguez Ibáñez.

Talented curatorial teams are quickly moving forward with plans for the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Steve Kidd, who directs the Festival, comments on the three stories that will unfold on our nation's front lawn:  "This year's Festival highlights Rhythm and Blues, featuring performances by contemporary musicians representing the regional hearths of this very American form of creative expression. We are also very excited about the Colombia program that captures the vitality, warmth and ingenuity of the peoples of Colombia, who have forged their community-based traditions through their relationship with the environment. Festival visitors are invited to view demonstrations in basket weaving and guadua (bamboo) construction, and we especially welcome Colombian Americans to join us for these dynamic programs. Finally, the Peace Corps program tells an enduring story of cultural exchange by focusing on cultural traditions that helped Peace Corps Volunteers better understand the communities in which they served."

We warmly welcome your visit and participation in the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer, and until then, we look forward to sharing stories each week about some of the talented tradition bearers you will have an opportunity to meet at the National Mall.

Van Luong is the festival blogger for the 2011 Folklife Festival. 

Reading Bones: Kalmyk Cultural Symbolism

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

A process of cultural renewal and linguistic revival is taking place in Kalmykia, Russia, home to the westernmost group of Mongolic peoples. Nyamin Songajieyavich Manjieyev and Nina Kochayevna Manjieyeva speak both Kalmyk and Russian to describe the symbolic importance of sheep bones. Linguist Gregory D.S. Anderson translates, explaining how certain features of the bones symbolize facets of the Kalmyk worldview.

Videography by Sara Legg, Michael Headley and Sam Wharton
Edited by Sara Legg

Meet the Folklife Festival Volunteers

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

On Saturday, June 23, the volunteers for the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival came to the Mall for their annual orientation. Every year, many dedicated members of the public volunteer their time and energy—helping with everything from Festival accessibility to the evening concerts. This summer, more than six hundred volunteers will work with staff and participants; the Festival simply would not be possible without them.

Festival volunteers typically represent a wide range of ages and interests, and must be at least sixteen years of age to apply. This year, volunteers are coming from places as far away as Ghana, England, and Wales!  Many volunteers are veterans, who return every summer to help out with the Folklife Festival. Currently we have thirteen volunteers who have been helping out for more than twenty years. One of the longest-serving volunteers is retired school teacher Joan Paull, who is back for her thirty-seventh time with the Festival! Joan began volunteering in 1975, after first visiting the Festival. When asked if she has a favorite memory, she exclaimed, “You can’t ask that question! Every Festival has some outstanding wonderful, performance.” Some of her favorite moments from past Festivals include a camel that escaped from an enclosure in 2005, a buffalo that gave birth in the middle of the Mall, and the Dalai Lama’s visit in 2000.

Why do people volunteer at the Festival? Joan believes that her experiences with us have inspired her to travel around the world, and that the Folklife Festival has “not only been a springboard to me, but has also allowed me to broaden my own horizons.” She loves exploring new cultures, meeting new people, and having the opportunity to learn from them directly. This is the same reason why the Folklife Festival is such an exciting experience for many visitors: the Festival allows communities to speak for themselves as they share their cultural traditions, and encourages visitors—and volunteers—to engage with living cultures and their practitioners from around the world.

James Mayer is an intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.  He recently graduated from Macalester College, where he studied History and Classics.

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