Be advised: With thousands of participants and hundreds of exhibits covering the National Mall, a single person will not be able to see everything at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival during its 10-day run that starts Wednesday.
But feel free to give it a try.
This year, the festival — first held in 1967 — will be divided into three programs that explore the creativity of communities, whether they are united by geography, ancestry, education or even grief.
“Unlike an exhibit that displays artifacts behind glass, this is a dialogue between the visitor and participants,” Smithsonian spokeswoman Emily Grebenstein said. “It’s tactile and audible and makes for a very individual and unique learning experience.”
Land and Learning
This year marks the sesquicentennial of the founding of both the land-grant university system and the Department of Agriculture.
The festival will explore the collaboration of these two institutions from historical and modern perspectives. “Campus and Community” features more than 20 universities and highlights their approaches to sustainability. Featured universities have built eco-cars (Mississippi State University), robots (Oregon State University) and disease-resistant crops (Washington State University).
Betty Belanus, Smithsonian curator for the exhibit, said the program features the ways in which universities are working with communities to reinvent older agricultural methods.
For those concerned that a focus on education will be dry, Belanus promises the events will be “anything but boring.” A series of musical performances will include Hawaiian hula dancing, a steel drum ensemble from West Virginia and an award-winning mariachi group.
Across the Anacostia
Curator Olivia Cadaval joked that the country being featured this year is “the country of Washington east of the river.”
“Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River” celebrates the community identity of far Southeast D.C. In addition to highlighting the traditions of these D.C. neighborhoods, the program confronts issues prevalent among Anacostia communities, such as the large numbers of young people joining gangs. This program looks toward “redirecting their energy in more creative ways,” Cadaval said.
Among the local talent participating is Charles “Coco” Bayron, a tattoo artist from Anacostia. “There’s different forms of artwork,” he said. “This is ours.”
“Some people are afraid of going east of the river,” Cadaval said. “It’s very rich in public art. Another goal is to have a conversation with the public that will expand beyond coming to the Mall.”
“Citified” will also host a poetry slam on July 6 and a tribute to the Godfather of Go-Go, the late Chuck Brown, on July 7.
Memorial on the Mall