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  • Building a Cultural Ecosystem: A Welcome from the Festival Director

    Protesters join in a large circle dance in Republic Square during Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” in May 2018. Photo by Roubina Margossian, EVN Report

    Protesters join in a large circle dance in Republic Square during Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” in May 2018. Photo by Roubina Margossian, EVN Report

    This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival considers how cultural heritage enterprise sustains communities by igniting innovation, promoting economic resilience, transmitting individual and group identity, and fostering the transmission of knowledge. The work of artisans, local food and wine producers, independent musicians, heritage tour operators, and others are part of a cultural ecosystem that deepens and expands our understanding of the long-term vitality of folk and traditional practices.

    Our rigorous research exposed numerous fault lines in how we perceive and express the relationship between commerce and traditional culture. To paraphrase a voicemail left by one longtime visitor, what happens to “our Festival” when we talk about tourism and the business of culture? As you will discover, Armenia: Creating Home, Catalonia: Tradition and Creativity from the Mediterranean, and the artisans visiting this year’s Festival Marketplace offer intriguing—and occasionally vexing—answers to this question.

    In truth, such considerations are not new to the Festival; however, there is a more intense sense of urgency woven throughout our work. The world has become smaller due to increased migration, advances in technology, the ubiquity of social media—the list goes on. Simultaneously, communities around the globe are at the frontlines of all manner of political shifts and environmental challenges. In this context, the role of traditional knowledge, interventions, and industries in shaping histories, identities, and aesthetics has taken on greater significance. Despite wildly differing pasts and geographies, both Armenia and Catalonia point to the fact that sustaining culture is a complex process.

    The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an exercise in cultural democracy, equity, and diplomacy. The persistent power of its founding vision is made manifest by the work of dedicated staff, interns, volunteers, sponsors, and partners (like our friends at Roadwork Center for Cultures in Disputed Territory whose Sisterfire concert closes this year and points us to the next). The many artisans, musicians, cooks, dancers, and more imbue the Festival with animating energy. Your presence gives it purpose.

    As always, I invite you to explore our offerings with a spirit of curiosity and wish you interactions that foster delight, understanding, and wonder.

    Sabrina Lynn Motley is the director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.


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