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  • Highlights from the 2017 Opening Ceremony

    Production: W.N. McNair

    On the Folklife Festival’s 50th anniversary, one thing I’ve learned is that milestones are tricky business. They simultaneously fill you with a soaring sense of pride and the overwhelming reality of how much more there is to do. This year has provided a chance for us to revisit the Festival’s history and reach and reflect upon questions that have guided us from the outset: Who are we now? How does culture sustain and challenge us? What tools do we need to nurture creativity, empathy, and community?

    Anyone who’s turned fifty knows it’s also a time to think about looking forward and making space. In this case, how do we embrace new cultural practices, forms of knowledge, platforms of expression, and modes of engagement? What does cultural equity look like in the twenty-first century when the spaces between us seem so vast? 

    Ultimately, standing at 50 is like being in the eye of a tornado. You hold on for dear life to the things that matter and then pray that you’re pointed in the right direction when it’s all over. The urgency, occasional sense of dislocation, and surprising bursts of wonder are made more vivid by the fact that you’re standing with people who share your commitments and preoccupations.

    The Festival’s staff, interns, and volunteers are a dysfunctional, inquisitive, unreasonable, and passionate family. Every year, we build a story catcher on the National Mall and invite hundreds of thousands from around the world to join us. And you do. As you walk the grounds of the Festival, I ask that you join me in thanking the many, many hearts and hands that make our production, graphics, technical support, administration, operations, and participant support run with uncommon grace.

    In their wisdom, S. Dillon Ripley, Jim Morris, and Ralph Rinzler planted seeds that feed us still. At the end of the day, turning fifty isn’t so bad. At this stage there may be a few creaks, but if you’re lucky you’re able to cherish gifts given and received.

    Sabrina Motley is the director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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