Editors' pick

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

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Editorial Review

Smithsonian Folklife Festival: East of the Anacostia, land grant universities, AIDS Memorial Quilt
By Lonnae O'Neal Parker and Jacqueline Trescott
June 1, 2012

Come summer and the storm clouds, the humidity and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, now in its 45th year, arrive on the Mall. It’s a time to discover and reconnect with music, food, crafts, people and the cool tang of the Mall’s lemonade.

The events this year are built around three themes: “Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River,” “Campus and Community” and “Creativity and Crisis.” Anniversaries and cultural movements inspire the festival’s lineup and tie the colorful mixed bag of events together.

The identity, history and creativity of Southern migrants who settled in Washington and formed the far Southeast communities east of the Anacostia River are a central part of the programs.

“Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River,” a program in conjunction with the Anacostia Community Museum, will examine the connectivity of District communities whose roots run south, and trace back especially to the Carolinas. Music, dance, cooking and visual art traditions are explored as expressions of rural agrarian creativity reinterpreted in an urban, wage-work context.

Performances will include line dancers, African dance and drummers, church choirs, hip-hop artists, comedians and go-go bands. Storytellers, tattoo artists and quilt-makers will be included in cultural activities designed to focus on the East of the River identity and on strengthening intergenerational bonds of community.

The “Campus and Community” program will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of land grant universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Civil War-era legislation led to the creation of the government agency and to 217 institutions of higher education including state university systems, the 1890s addition of historically black colleges and universities, and the 1994 addition of Native American tribal colleges.

The festival will highlight the benefits of research partnerships with the USDA involving food, health care, sustainable living, revitalization and education projects. There will be demonstrations of modern dairy methods, a variety of gardening and other 4-H activities, and opportunities to share stories about personal experiences with public university and USDA programs.

The 25th anniversary of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is another milestone the Folklife Festival will commemorate. This work of art, now consisting of 48,000 panels, sprang out of grief, love, absence and anger.

“Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt” will follow the development of the unique memorial with discussions and demonstrations by approximately 100 designers, musicians, quilters and community activists. A portion of the quilt will be displayed on the Mall.

The festival runs June 27 through July 8 on the Mall.