The Festival of American Folklife, held annually since 1967 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was renamed the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1998. It is produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (1999-present) and by its predecessors: the Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies (1991-1999), Office of Folklife Programs (1979-1991), Folklife Program of the Office of American and Folklife Studies (1977-1979), and Division of Performing Arts (1967-1976). Beginning with the 1973 Festival, the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior became cosponsor of the Festival.
The Festival is organized to increase and diffuse knowledge about grassroots culture. It is a research-based, curated event, drawing on the efforts of Smithsonian staff, academic and lay scholars, and community members from the featured cultures, regions, and occupations. The most distinctive feature of the Festival is its attempt to foreground the voices of tradition bearers as they demonstrate, discuss, and present their folklife and cultural heritage. Since its founding the Festival has always navigated between the various axes of art (as entertainment), cultural rights (as advocacy), education (as public service), and knowledge (as scholarship).
Since its founding, the Festival has featured exemplary tradition bearers from more than 50 nations, every region of the United States, scores of ethnic communities, more than 100 American Indian groups, and some 50 occupations. The Festival was born in 1967 during the tenure of Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, part of a larger effort to make the National Mall more accessible to the American public and to make the Smithsonian's programs more exciting and engaging. James Morris, director of Museum Services and then of the Division of Performing Arts, proposed that the Smithsonian host a folk festival as the centerpiece of the outdoors activities on the National Mall. Ralph C. Rinzler, then-director of field programs for the Newport Folk Festival, was engaged to help plan the 1967 Festival, serving as Festival Director from 1968-1982.
The Festival of American Folklife, held annually since 1967 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was renamed the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1998. This collection documents the planning, production, and execution of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Materials include photographs, audio recordings, film and video recordings, notes, production drawings, contracts, memoranda, correspondence, informational materials, publications, Festival T-shirts, and ephemera. In earlier years these materials were all created as paper records or analog media. Increasingly, the Festival records are now born as digital media or electronic documents.
The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage also maintains a Material Culture Collection that includes items donated to the Center by Festival participants.
Staff and contractors of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage collaborate with Smithsonian staff photographers to document the Festival in images. The Center's videographer, contract crews, volunteers, and interns video-record Festival performances and demonstrations. Volunteers trained by the Center's archivists record and log audiotapes at every Festival stage and discussion area. In addition to the documentation of the Festival on the National Mall, the collection includes field research conducted by Smithsonian researchers or, increasingly, by researchers drawn from the community, state, or nation featured.
Detailed SOVA finding aids for this collection are available here.