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Mission and History

Through the power of culture, we build understanding, strengthen communities, and reinforce our shared humanity.

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is a research and educational unit of the Smithsonian Institution. We promote greater understanding and sustainability of cultural heritage across the United States and around the world through research, education, and community engagement.

We produce the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Cultural Sustainability initiatives, exhibitions, documentary films and videos, symposia, publications, and educational materials. We also maintain the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, conduct ethnographic and cultural heritage policy oriented research, and provide educational opportunities through fellowships, internships, and training programs.

In addition to the Folklife Festival, we produce major national cultural events, such as the National World War II Reunion, the First Americans Festival for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian, and the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in September 2016.

Our philosophy is to join high-quality scholarship with strong community participation and engaging educational outreach. This has led to activities that have affected cultural heritage policies and practices at local, national, and international levels. Programs and products have earned serious scholarly review, popular acclaim, broad media attention, and professional recognition. Our staff is culturally diverse and extremely productive, combining interdisciplinary scholars with technical specialists.

Activities at the Center are funded by federal appropriations, Smithsonian trust funds, contracts and agreements with national, state, and local governments, foundation grants, gifts from individuals and corporations, income from the Festival, and Folkways product sales.

Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Cultural Vitality Program, educational outreach, and more.