The Smithsonian Institution has canceled this summer’s 10-day Folklife Festival celebrating the music and culture of Benin and Brazil and will replace it with a smaller event.
January’s government shutdown is partly to blame.
Sabrina Motley, director of the festival, said Thursday that initially, crucial funding for the 2019 event arrived later than expected, slowing preparations. “And once we had those funds, we had the shutdown,” she said. “The timing was unfortunate.”
The partial government shutdown lasted 35 days, from Dec. 22 through Jan. 25. The Smithsonian used reserve funds to remain open through December, one of its busiest weeks. When it closed Jan. 2, its federal employees were furloughed and not permitted to work.
Still, the Smithsonian employees were back at work five months before the festival was set to open. It was scheduled for June 26-30 and July 3-7.
“The government opened back up, but it took a while for systems to come back online,” Motley said. “We looked at our production schedule, and it became clear we would need more time than we had.”
A decision was made to postpone the Brazil and Benin celebration until summer 2020 and do a smaller event this year, Motley said. “Our partners were quite happy with that. They understood the pressure we were under.” Next year, the festival will be held June 24-28 and July 1-5.
The 2019 festival will be a two-day event, June 29 and 30, focused on the “Social Power of Music,” in keeping with the Smithsonian-wide 2019 Year of Music theme.
“This was not an easy decision to make at all,” Motley said. “We wanted to make sure we would produce a festival that would honor our partners, and take care of our staff.”
Not all Smithsonian Folklife Festivals have been 10-day events, she noted. The 1979 festival spanned five days in October, while the 1985 event lasted four days.
In 2017, a long-planned Cuban festival was canceled after the Smithsonian was unable to reach an agreement for the event with the Cuban government. It was replaced with a celebration of circus arts.