Today I had the opportunity to enjoy the Smithsonian Folklife Festival –an annual event not to be missed. For those of you unfamiliar with this festival, designed by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Mall is transformed into a place for in-depth cultural exploration. China and Kenya are featured this year and opportunities abound to expand your cultural bandwidth while having a ton of fun. After a two week run, the festival will conclude on Sunday July 6th so try to get here if you can.
When I entered the China section, I had the pleasure of watching a puppet show with complimenting live music. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful and intricately designed these handmade puppets were. Not only was there a puppet show but the puppeteers had them doing traditional dances to the live music which required the work of two people to operate each one. Then I wandered over to the expansive demonstration and activity area. One could chose to explore paper cuttings, calligraphy, textiles, clay, embroidery, bamboo, kites, musical instruments and a whole host of other traditionally Chinese arts. Each station offered hands-on demonstrations with a real artist explaining how to create the art and the historical and cultural significance of the trade. Everywhere I went there was live song and dance as well. Audience participation was always encouraged and seeing the huge smiles on the kid’s faces as they danced was an added benefit.
One thing everyone always wants to know is “what’s the deal with the food?” Well I have great news for you, not only can you find cuisine from both cultures; but they even have regional cuisine from within China and Kenya for you to choose from. And that’s not all; there are also demonstrations of how to prepare various traditional foods from both cultures.
When I entered “Kenya,” I sat down to hear, Chris Adwar, a man who’s been performing his culture’s music for over three decades. People were dancing in aisles and just having a great time. I walked over to the Kenyan demonstration and activity area and saw: plaster art, rock art, beads and jewelry, wood, weaving and other traditional crafts. As with the Chinese exhibits, each station had a master artist teaching you the “how to’s” and explaining the historic significance of their art. Kenya also contained a mock archeological site where experts were teaching people how to find “buried treasures.” Additional demonstrations included the hand-painting of an entire boat and another area where craftspeople were constructing a small hut entirely out of recycled materials.
I cannot underscore how impressed I was with the comprehensive way traditional art forms were presented and it was heartening to see the joy of each presenter as he or she shared their unique talent and culture with the audience. With so much to do and such friendly people, the Smithsonian Folkways Festival is a must do! Here is a map of the festival layout and the main schedule for remaining days. I hope you check it out because I know you will have a great time.