Strategic Plan 2019–2023
At a moment when globalization has accelerated cultural change to new levels, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage excels in its commitment to curiosity, exchange, and understanding. Here, we bring rich and diverse stories to the fore—critical perspectives on the issues that move us.
In doing so, we pose new questions about our underlying convictions: Where have we come from? Where are we going? And what brings us together at a time when so much pulls us apart?
We have come a long way in answering those questions, but there is still more to do.
Over the next five years, the Center will explore these and other questions through new scholarship and partnerships, expanded Folklife Festival and Smithsonian Folkways offerings, new cultural sustainability projects in communities near and far, and unprecedented digital access to the cultural knowledge held in our archives. Collectively, these initiatives highlight the work of individuals in communities and the shared humanity we uncover when we invite them to tell their stories.
That is the spirit that every single one of us—directors, curators, , educators, archivists, and program staff—need to provide for our communities and the individuals who comprise them. That is what stirs and propels us forward every single day: our spirit of inquiry and the understanding that curiosity inspires.
Michael Atwood Mason
Director, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Through the power of culture, we build understanding, strengthen communities, and reinforce our shared humanity.
Sustaining the world’s cultural diversity
We support cultural equity in all that we do, believing that all people everywhere have the right to inherit and develop their intellectual, emotional, material, spiritual, and cultural traditions.
We affirm the basic human right to free expression.
We promote active participation in cultural life.
We honor and respect the creativity and diversity of traditions and people around the world.
We recognize that collaboration is essential to our work, and we relish both the knowledge and relationships that are born from it.
We spark the curiosity that leads to learning and wonder.
We continually strive for greater understanding—often exploring complex issues.
We pursue excellence in our work, recognizing that it takes many forms.
We cherish intercultural dialogue and exchange as a key pathway to discovery, affirmation, personal growth, and transformation.
We are committed to innovation in our work.
We value the cultural memory recorded in our collections.
Goal 1: Lead the global community of cultural heritage professionals and scholars in building cultural understanding
These times have reinforced the critical role that cultural institutions like the Center play in fostering exchange and mutual understanding. Now more than ever, the Center is poised to present new scholarship, train the next generation of cultural heritage professionals, and improve access to our rich collections. In doing so, the Center will pave the way for new explorations into the infinite and complex stories of our times.
Collectively, new research projects, scholarly symposia, and collections care initiatives will foster a critical understanding of cultural heritage and the traditions that make us who we are today. Through expanded research, mentorship, and outreach projects, the Center will bring to the fore new stories of music, craft, and culture—living histories that shape our everyday lives.
Every year, nearly 160 interns and fellows join the Center to pursue hands-on, collaborative projects. The Center’s decades-long investment in shaping the careers of diverse, talented emerging professionals has enabled many of our interns and fellows to achieve prominent positions in the arts and humanities. They are conducting exemplary research, leading celebrated programs, and serving their communities.
We intend to expand our inclusion efforts through the Diversity in Cultural Heritage and the Arts program with philanthropic support. Private gifts will enable us to establish a $1 million endowed fund to provide new opportunities for students, scholars, and young adults to explore careers in cultural heritage, the arts, and arts management. Gifts from donors will advance the lives and careers of young scholars and practitioners and ensure that cultural heritage efforts include diverse perspectives and voices.
The Center will welcome interns and fellows from Washington, D.C., across the country, and around the world. They will study cultural heritage, the arts, anthropology, folklore, ethnomusicology, archival science, media studies, and ethnic and area studies—especially related to African, Latino, and Asian diasporas and women’s cultural studies.
The program will also create a pipeline for graduate education in Goucher College’s Master of Arts in Cultural Sustainability, George Mason University’s Folklore Studies Program, and the University of North Carolina’s Folklore Program.
Let’s talk about audio discs! From 2017-2018, the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections at @SmithsonianFolk completed a major rehousing and condition reporting project for our archival audio discs. #PresTC19 #RinzlerArchives pic.twitter.com/QlVeJAPADM— Dave Walker (@DWalkerAudio) April 24, 2019
Goal 2: Connect people through diverse cultural experiences
In an era of polarization, the Center plays a pivotal role in connecting people, places, and perspectives with a deftness and appreciation of the many complexities of our world. Over the next five years, the Center will reach new audiences with year-round Smithsonian Folklife Festival programming, offer new releases and membership programs at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and expand its educational and digital programs.
Shifting away from social siloes toward cross-cultural dialogues has always been the way of the Center. Now more than ever, we will invest in amplifying marginalized voices, linking new perspectives across our offerings and upending cultural presumptions through storytelling with deep humanity.
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We’re kicking off our 2019 Folklife Festival theme of the Social Power of Music with a dance party tonight at Tropicalia! Coming from Ecuador and Colombia, Río Mira plays marimba music that traces back to the maroon community, enslaved Africans who escaped in the Americas. Follow along on Stories! If you are a DC local, make your way to @tropicaliadc! Tickets are still available at the door. #flashofthespirit2018
When people of different cultures meet, share, and listen with curiosity and positive intent, the results are magical, and they are lasting: expanded understanding, inspiration, learning, and a broadened sense of the world’s complexity and richness. At this moment when so much works to pull us apart—as fear erodes compassion, and false narratives overtake fact—the Center is intensifying work on its mission to bring people together.
The Folklife Festival, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2017, has engaged millions of people in direct cultural experiences and spurred a range of partnerships and programs. As we look ahead to our next half-century, we seek to expand the Festival’s impact even further. The Festival will not only provide an intensive two-week experience on the National Mall, but also engage the public year-round with our artists and communities through vibrant new programs in music, foodways, the arts, dance, and other forms of cultural expression. Different program formats, audience sizes, and locations throughout Washington will forge deep and enduring relationships with the city’s diverse communities.
By supporting a vast array of expanded programing for children, teens, and adults, philanthropy will foster increased appreciation for the culture that links us all and strengthens civic life. It will extend the impact of the Folklife Festival and leverage the Center’s efforts to produce it, ensuring that tens of thousands of additional people participate in and are inspired by one-on-one cultural experiences each year. We will reach audiences beyond the National Mall through digital platforms.
We seek to create a sustainable future for the award-winning Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the extraordinary encyclopedia of sound that traces its roots to the 1940s, when founder Moses Asch set out to document the diversity of music and sound from around the world. Remarkable artists have contributed to and been influenced by the collection, like Ella Jenkins, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Carlos Rojas. Today, Folkways enriches the lives of hundreds of millions of people through the recordings and materials readily accessible online.
Unencumbered by profit-motivated interests, Folkways must nevertheless balance its public purpose with the financial realities of business. Folkways’ operating model has been negatively impacted by music industry and technology changes during the past decade. Downloaded tracks that formerly sold for a dollar, for example, now stream for four-tenths of a penny. To ensure Folkways thrives into the coming century as an independent record label, we are streamlining and strengthening our approach. We are ensuring our people and processes are as efficient as possible, and we are expanding development of entrepreneurial partnerships and innovative products.
Private support to build a substantial endowment will secure Folkways’ future. It will ensure that the Smithsonian has the ongoing capacity to conduct scholarship and share the beauty of sound. Philanthropy will enable subsequent generations to hear and be moved and inspired by the music, sounds, and voices that matter.
Through two new programs that make extensive use of the Center’s vast assets, we seek to strengthen American education, expand cultural understanding among young people, and strengthen civic society. These programs—Smithsonian Folkways Education and Disrupting Bigotry—are aimed primarily at schoolchildren and will teach the rich, complex, and moving human and cultural history of the United States. By teaching them to approach others with compassion and understanding, we will interrupt the quiet, insidious, and destructive forces of prejudice and bigotry just as they are taking hold.Smithsonian Folkways Education
We will enliven and deepen learning across PreK-16 by creating learning pathways through the richest parts of Folkways’ digitized archives. Our music, scholarship, and original source materials related to civil rights and cultural diversity in the United States will bring to life educational modules in a range of subjects, including history, social studies, music education, science, and reading. These pathways through the Folkways catalog will be adaptable to specific pedagogical standards, cultural concentrations, and different knowledge levels, customizing learning experiences for both classroom and remote learners. The program will help to reach underserved communities in new ways, meet the needs of multiple learning styles, and provide a diversity of perspectives that remains insufficiently reflected in most learning materials.
By supporting the creation and expansion of these extraordinary learning resources, private support will help to grow and equalize educational opportunity. Beyond PreK-16 education, it will expand lifelong personal enrichment and professional development for those who seek deeper insights into the cultural diversity of the United States.Disrupting Bigotry: Teaching Inquiry, Engagement, and Empathy
Through a bold new program for younger students, we seek to disrupt and reduce bigotry, changing the long-term trajectory of individual lives and strengthening the foundations of our democracy. Disrupting Bigotry will include awareness-raising exhibitions, public programs, and educational modules designed to teach cultural competence. By engaging with young people at the stage in their development before many lifelong prejudices are formed, we will foster curiosity and empathy. To grow recognition and affirmation of the entire American experience, we intend to build a broad coalition for change through partnerships with museums, libraries, cultural institutions, schools, and communities.
Philanthropy will help to reduce intolerance by enabling young people to develop the skills of cultural competency. Private resources will enable us to generate data that can be used to expand the program and garner greater levels of support through grants, public-private partnerships, and additional philanthropy.
We seek to strengthen individuals and communities by democratizing culture and increasing cultural understanding through the creation of a bold, dynamic, and ever-growing digital archive. The Center will crowdsource cultural data, inviting the public to share personal narratives, videos, digitized artifacts, and other materials that tell the stories of their lives, their arts, and their traditions. We will curate these digital donations and place them alongside the Smithsonian’s extensive existing collections and scholarship in an interactive platform, thereby expanding the reach and depth of the Center’s other projects. Content will be of the broadest possible range—from raw to highly polished—with the most compelling materials featured in the Center’s electronic publications. Moderated, online communities of affinity and interest will be developed, enriching participation in civic life in ways that highlight similarities and bridge differences.
Private funding will enable us to open the doors of participation to all who wish to contribute, preserve, and discuss their cultural experiences. Through connecting individuals directly, it will realize the Center’s mission in the most powerful ways imaginable.
Goal 3: Champion cultural vitality in diverse communities
Around the world, globalization trends are privileging cheap, machine-made goods over traditional, time-honored crafts. At the Center, we are working with individuals and communities to document, preserve, and sustain those most vital traditions—providing training workshops, storytelling platforms, and sustainability measures to keep alive what is increasingly lost.
Drawing upon community-based research, the Center will embark on new cultural sustainability projects, develop additional research and documentation strategies, and design the necessary tools to sustain the world’s rich and resilient cultural traditions. Taken together with new impact measures, these projects will underline the Center’s commitment to cultural sustainability in communities near and far.
Today, when so much threatens vulnerable communities and their cultural heritage, the Center must grow its efforts, expand its networks, teach other organizations the most effective ways to sustain cultures, and increase appreciation of these cultures and traditions among a broad general public. The Center seeks to accelerate cultural sustainability around the globe—through its own programs and those of other organizations—by scaling the use of a standardized framework for assessing a culture’s vulnerability, identifying targeted areas of needed assistance, and evaluating impact of efforts.
For the past four years, the Center has been piloting the method and testing its principles through projects with communities in Western China and Armenia. Our observations from working with nearly 1,000 artisans and tradition bearers are highly encouraging, and USAID has already adopted the Center’s framework for its cultural-evaluation efforts in Armenia.
Private funding will allow us to increase dramatically the impact and effectiveness of this work, expanding use of the framework and focusing our efforts around the following three goals:
Philanthropy will transform the Center, targeting its efforts to communities in which the urgency is greatest, independent of the variability and uncertainty of federal funding, which supports our current work in the pilot communities.
Goal 4: Increase organizational capacity to achieve our mission
Guided by a longstanding commitment to cultural equity, ours is a spirit of inclusion and cooperation. Over the next five years, the Center will engage in new partnerships, establish robust collaboration funds, and ensure that staff have the resources they need to research, sustain, and present world cultures.
Our work relies on the hard work of many. In the coming years, we will add new research, education, digital communication, collections management, and administrative staff to our team. Together with streamlined orientation and career planning programs, we will work to mentor and train the Center’s next generation of cultural heritage practitioners. The coming five years will also be paramount in building a culture of philanthropy at the Center, raising funds to grow our work in new and diverse ways.