Every summer the Smithsonian Folklife Festival brings a celebration of living cultural heritage to the National Mall, showcasing different regions around the world through a variety of hands-on activities, performances, demonstrations, and exhibits for all ages to enjoy. It’s one of DC’s most anticipated annual events, and this year’s event kicked off yesterday with Catalonia and Armenia in the spotlight.
It’s running through July 1, then July 4-8, and I highly recommend going at some point. I just spent a few of hours there and came straight home to post this, so I could share info and images right away — it’s that good. The only negative for me was that Owen and Sasha weren’t there to enjoy it, too. Going to the Folklife Festival is somewhat of a summer tradition for us, but they are both at sleep away camp for the next couple of weeks. (Yes, KidFriendly DC is, ironically, KidFree for bit. But not to worry… I have a backlog of cool adventures I’ll be blogging about!)
One of my favorite things about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is the many opportunities to get hands-on. Artisans, performers, and other experts from the highlighted places come here to present their work and traditions behind them, and most welcome visitors to participate, too. In the Catalonia area I worked on a mosaic tile piece that will become part of a larger mural. I learned about Festa Major de Gràcia, an annual celebration in Barcelona, that includes large-scale neighborhood art installations created mostly from recycled materials. I helped cut plastic bottles and paint the curly strips and flowers made from them to be applied to a structure that will become DC’s own Festa piece.
Kids, actually make that everyone, will also enjoy seeing beautiful giant puppets (some that they let you try on!); music and dance performances; metal, clay, and wood artisans at work; and cooking demos of traditional cuisine. There are also rug weavers and lace tatters making beautiful pieces while you watch in awe. And even more amazing art and heritage is there to discover. Food from both cultures is available for purchase, and there are bar areas on both sides, too, if you’re so inclined.
All of this takes place in tents and booths on the sides of the Mall, so there is a lot of shade from the trees. Of course, you can easily pop into one of the museums if you need a break from the heat (or a restroom).
A few other Festival programs will provide even more cultural insight and experiences. On the Move explores how we experience migration in our everyday lives. Crafts of African Fashion showcases apparel from African countries as works fo art and demonstrates how cultural enterprises sustain communities and connect generations on the continent. And on July 8, there will be an evening concert tribute to Sisterfire festivals produced in DC in the 1980s.
Festival hours are 11:30am – 6pm each day it runs, with evening concerts most nights at 6:30pm. It’s set up on the Mall near the Smithsonian Castle, Freer|Sackler Gallery, Natural History Museum, American History Museum. To get there, I recommend taking Metro or biking to the National Mall*. The Smithsonian stop on the Blue/Orange line is most convenient, and L’Enfant on Blue/Orange & Yellow/Green is also nearby.
*Be aware that the National Mall can get crowded during this time. Besides the influx of tourists to DC during the summer, the July 4th celebration draws even more crowds. That said, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is wonderful and worth braving the crowds and high temps to experience. Admission to all of it is free.
For more information, including the schedule of events, visit the Festival website. And for a glimpse of what’s there, check out the photos below.