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  • A Festival of Ideas and Explorations: Welcome from Our Director

    On a dimly lit stage, one woman stands behind a podium with the Smithsonian sunburst logo, with another beside her. On the projection screen to their right, large white text reads FOLKLIFE FESTIVAL.

    Sabrina Motley at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

    Photo by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

    A recent article described this year’s Folklife Festival as comprising a region and “an idea,” something I found jarring and, ultimately, accurate. Every one of our programs is chock-a-block with suppositions, hunches, and assumptions. The collaborations that drive this work are as grounded in ideas and questions as they are in relationships and networks. What makes us human? How does cultural knowledge and practice help us contend with the “already” and the “not yet”? Upon reflection, the country, region, state, and occupational model the Festival has historically used is little more than shorthand for the innumerable ideas that bind and separate us.

    So, what would happen if we leaned into the Festival being as much about ideas as about the stories that hold them, the individuals and communities who cherish them, and the cultural practices that give them shape? Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S. and The Ozarks: Faces and Facets of a Region offer beautifully rendered answers. Those programs, along with special presentations from Kazakhstan and Ukraine, seek to better articulate the ideas animating them and increase curiosity about the people, practices, and geographies residing at their core—definitely worthy pursuits given the times in which we live.

    No matter the country, region, state, occupation, or idea, the Festival continuesto be a place for enthusiastic, respectful exploration of what lifts, challenges, and matters to us. The generous culture bearers we host guarantee that we never shy away from the complexity of lived experience. Our dedicated staff, interns, and volunteers ensure that abstract ideas are made both concrete and accessible. You, in concert with our partners, sponsors, and donors, make it possible to manifest the Festival’s purpose and Smithsonian’s mission.

    Time is a precious thing. My sincere thanks for sharing yours. May your visit be filled with moments of connection and wonder that enrich your own ideas about what constitutes a creative, just world.

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

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