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Three men form a line while playing music. The one in front plays a fife, and the two behind him play drums strapped to their chests. Old color photo.
Members of the Rising Star Fife and Drum group perform at the 1974 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Photo by Reed and Susan Erskine, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Curators and scholars at the Center are specialists in the fields of cultural heritage, cultural studies, ethnomusicology, folklore, area and policy studies. Our research is grounded in collaborative and community-oriented approaches. We study and develop educational and public programs and produce online resources on traditional knowledge and expressive culture, including craft, language vitality, and performance, among other practices. Our research and curation shape the rich programming of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Mother Tongue Film Festival, the releases of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and our Cultural Sustainability initiatives.

Our researchers contribute to journals, magazines, and award-winning books. We support our fields by taking leadership positions in national professional organizations and participating as members of national academies and international research projects. Center scholars also teach college and university courses, develop community training programs, and serve as mentors to visiting fellows from the United States and around the world, sponsored by Fulbright, Smithsonian, and other programs.

We collaborate with a range of professional societies, traditional arts organizations, government offices, and grassroots-driven efforts. To learn more about the engaged research produced at the Center, click on the curators’ names to see their research profiles and explore featured projects.

Featured Exhibitions


Featured Films & Publications

  • Book cover for Curatorial Conversations: Cultural Representation and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

    Curatorial Conversations: Cultural Representation and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
    Edited by Olivia Cadaval, Sojin Kim, and Diana Baird N’Diaye

  • Good Work: Masters of the Building Arts
    Directed by Marjorie Hunt and Paul Wagner

  • Book cover for Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Culture Of, By, and For the People.

    Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Culture Of, By, and For the People
    Written by Richard Kurin

  • Book cover for Reflections of a Culture Broker: A View from the Smithsonian.

    Reflections of a Culture Broker: A View from the Smithsonian
    Written by Richard Kurin


Four men in matching black shirts and white pants, and a young woman in bright red shirt and shorts, march down a gravel pathway, with a sign for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival behind them. Each person holds or plays an instrument: a conch, flutes, violin.
Fellow Jessie Vallejo, in red, serves as presenter and guest musician for Hatun Kotama, representing Kichwa language and music from the Otavalo region of Ecuador at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives


Seated in folding plastic chairs, two young women in matching red staff shirts interview a man across from them, one holding a microphone to his mouth as he smirks and looks in the distance. Outdoor festival tents and visitors in the background.
Interns interview a visitor at the 2019 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, asking, “How do you wear your D.C. style?”
Photo by Kerri Redding, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

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