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  • Making Life Richer: The Importance of Sharing Culture

    My time as an intern this summer was spent exploring the Smithsonian Folklife Festival through the lens of a camera: the traditional Mixteco masks and chivarras, the joyous shouts and whistles of the Basque dancers, the jubilant cheers at the end of an evening concert.

    I grew up in one of America’s most diverse cities. The experience taught me the importance of getting to know people from different backgrounds and cultures. In producing this video, I asked one question of both Festival visitors and participants: “Why is it important to share culture?”

    In answering my question, Folklife Festival director Sabrina Lynn Motley summed up the influence of the event:

    “It’s important to share culture because, as much as we know about each other, we still have a lot to learn. In my more cynical moments, I realize that it really is a matter of life and death. We’re exploring the stories of people who are moving across this world, and they have nothing. They’re leaving war. To think about it, culture is a way to sustain people in the worst times, and culture is a way to lift us up in our best times.

    “I think that now, more than ever, the sharing of culture is important. The way we do it at the Festival is pretty special. It’s chaotic, and sometimes schizophrenic and hard, but every day when I leave here, I think about what we did together, and how it’s just one gesture that I hope will open a window to a world for a child, or enable someone who’s an older adult to think about their life in a different way and the community that she or he came from as having a different kind of meaning and impact.

    “I think that there’s power in this work. And again, with those matters of life and death, we’re not doctors. We don’t save lives. But I think that we make life richer, and that’s not a bad thing to do.”

    Production and editing: Alexis Ligon
    Videography: Albert Tong, W.N. McNair, Andrea Curran, Ann Saul, Helen Lehrer, Claudia Romano, Ryan Shank, David Barnes, Alexis Ligon,  Michelle Mehrtens, Lillie Schneyer, Kamilla Young, Pruitt Allen

    Alexis Ligon is a video production intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is a student at Amherst College majoring in anthropology, music, and ethnographic film.

    Basque: Innovation by Culture was co-sponsored by the Basque Country institutions: the Basque Government and the provincial governments of Araba, Biscay, and Gipuzkoa. Sounds of California was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center.


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