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Smithsonian Festival Celebrates Folklife Around the Globe

Crafts, music, food, exhibits offer rich sampling of cultures and traditions

Posted: June 25, 2005

39th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall of the United States June 23-27 and June 30-July 4, 2005
Latino music returns to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington in 2005, while the culture of an Arab nation is explored in detail for the very first time with an exhibition on Oman.

Each year the festival -- spread out in tents and booths on the National Mall -- an expanse of grass and trees bordered by the museums and galleries of the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Capitol -- celebrates folk culture in the United States and around the world.

This year’s festival, the 39th, is showcasing Omani tradition, Latino music, American food and the 100-year history of the U.S. Forest Service with crafts, music, food and exhibits. Some 1 million visitors are expected.

One of the festival programs, “Nuestra Música: Music in Latino Culture,” marks the second year of a four-year project exploring Latino music and its special role in Latino culture.

“The focus of this year’s program is how Latinos use music and the values it carries to build a more coherent, positive sense of community among people of specific cultural backgrounds and among the Latino population as a whole,” said Daniel Sheehy, the program’s co-curator.

A series of evening concerts will introduce visitors to a variety of Latino musical styles, all designed to explore the theme “music builds community.” Musicians from across the United States and around the world will present an array of different Latino musical traditions including Dominican merengue, Afro-Puerto Rican bomba music, and musica jíbara, music from the mountainous regions of Puerto Rico.

Another exhibition, “Oman: Desert, Oasis and Sea,” highlights the contributions of each of the Sultanate of Oman’s three ecosystems, while presenting the music, dance, crafts, food and innovations of the Arab nation. It is the first Folklife Festival program to exclusively feature an Arab country.

“Arabs and Arab Americans have participated in past Smithsonian Folklife Festivals, but this program will provide an opportunity to focus on Arab culture at a time when it is much misunderstood around the world,” said program curator Rich Kennedy. “The Oman program may be able to dispel a few myths about the Arab world.”

At the June 23 opening ceremony, Oman Minister of Social Development Shafira Bint Khalfan Al Yahai noted the long history of positive U.S.-Omani relations, dating back to the presidency of Martin Van Buren (1836-1840). Van Buren received a pair of tiger cubs from the then-Sultan of Oman, but visitors to this year’s Folklife Festival will have the chance to watch artisans create date-leaf baskets, wool camel trappings, silver jewelry and daggers, view Islamic calligraphy, and learn the secrets of renowned Omani boat builders.

This year’s festival also features “Food Culture USA,” a look at the diversity of American cuisine, with a focus on the contributions of cooks and growers from different regions and communities throughout the country.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said at the festival opening that food reflects the heritage of America’s people and the country’s “diversity of backgrounds.”

One of the exhibits spotlights the huge variety of products in America that come from abroad, such as chocolate and tea, and another presents new production and sales techniques of small farmers. A winery section provides professional, hands-on winemaking demonstrations and information on the wine regions of the United States.

Festival visitors can also hear from Alice Waters, chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, who transported her “Edible Schoolyard” across the country. Waters uses the schoolyard to teach her young students the value of growing their own food.

“This is edible education, learning where your food comes from and how to eat it,” Waters said at the festival opening ceremony.

Waters explained that she would like to see public school curriculums across the country teach children a new relationship with food, and noted the importance of nutrition education. “There is a public consequence to every choice we make about how we nourish ourselves,” she said.

Johanns also introduced the Folklife Festival program on the U.S. Forest Service. It is the 100th anniversary of the agency, which manages public lands in national forests and grasslands, a total of some 193 million acres. Johanns and Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth stressed the agency’s commitment to long-term preservation of the country’s forests.

Drawing on the expertise of specialists such as tree pathologists and woodcarvers, the exhibition explores forest culture and forest communities. Programs celebrating humans’ relationship with the environment include demonstrations of smoke-jumping techniques, Dutch-oven cooking, and wilderness survival skills.

Live bluegrass, country-western and folk music are offered on the “Sounds of the Forest Stage” stage. Other items of note include an interactive forest with two dozen live trees, and a house constructed with energy-efficient materials developed by the Forest Service.

The festival is open June 23-27 and June 30-July 4. Additional information on the 2005 festival is available on the Smithsonian’s Web site.

Elizabeth Farabee and Carrie Loewenthal
Washington File Staff Writers

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