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The Nature of Culture


Assembling the Smithsonian Folklife Festival: A Journey into the 2011 Colombia Program

These pages offer a window into the processes of conceptualizing, researching, and producing the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program on Colombia.

Colombia: The Nature of Culture was a complex project that convened one hundred cultural practitioners for ten days on the National Mall. The project team was comprised of researchers, curators, artists, translators, photographers, videographers, engineers, and educators from the United States and Colombia. For three years, we worked together to conceptualize, research, and produce the Festival, which featured live performances, demonstrations, workshops, and discussion sessions representing six ecosystems and three cities.

By sharing documentation from all phases of the project as well as the perspectives of project staff and participants, the following pages showcase the Festival content and themes and provide insights, lessons, and models that we hope others can adapt for the documentation and interpretation of their own traditions.

"The Smithsonian provided a unique opportunity for representatives of Colombia's cultural and ecological diversity to meet in one space. Where else would you find a real paisa mule driver and a shaman from the Amazons together in the same place?"
—Mario Lamo,

  • Photo courtesy of Embassy of Colombia in Washington, DC
    Festival Program
  • A blacksmith heats his iron in a traditional forge before demonstrating the technique for shaping the metal.
    Photo by Anne Pederson, Ralph Rinzler Photo Archives
    Researching Traditions
  • This image represent the early stages of the conceptualization process in staging the Colombian Festival program on the National Mall.
    Images courtesy of Rodríguez Valencia Arquitectos
    Designing the Festival
  • Johanna Palacios Ruiz and Edinson Dario Vanegas from Tango Medellín perform tango dance at the Al Son Que Me Toquen Stage.
    Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Colombia in Washington, D.C.
    Presenting and Interpreting Culture
  • Catalina Gómez and Leonor Palacios, palm fiber artisan (Chocó, Colombia)
    Photo courtesy of Catalina Gómez
    Reflecting on the Festival Experience

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