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1977 Festival of American Folklife

October 5-10, 1977

As early as 1974, managers within the Smithsonian had wondered what to do after the Bicentennial Festival - return to the pattern of smaller Folklife Festivals that had preceded, expand its scope to a Smithsonian Summer Festival that would present popular artistic forms as well, or discontinue it and focus on curating the research and Festival documentation. In the immediate wake of the Bicentennial Festival, plans were proposed for Ralph Rinzler to become head of a new, unnamed folklife unit that would process the documentary materials developed by the Festival and produce scholarly and educational publications. James R. Morris and the Division of Performing Arts would continue to produce the Festival. A broader Smithsonian Summer Festival was accordingly announced for 1977. However, a newly-constituted Folklife Advisory Council decided instead that the Festival's emphasis on traditional cultural should continue, but that the Festival should be moved to the fall and should be more closely integrated with the activities of relevant units of the Smithsonian, especially within the National Museum of History and Technology and National Museum of Natural History. A Folklife Program was established under Rinzler's direction, attached to the Office of American and Folklife Studies headed by Wilcomb E. Washburn (also chair of the Folklife Advisory Council).

The 1977 Festival was thus held October 5-10, on a site within the National Mall later to be occupied by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, between 14th and 15th Streets and between Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive. Additional outdoor activities were held on the terrace of the National Museum of History and Technology, and indoor activities took place in that museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Renwick Gallery. The Division of Performing Arts continued to provide overall technical support for the Festival, but each program component was curated by a different team, typically including cooperation between a Folklife Program folklorist and a curator within another Smithsonian museum (see the individual programs for the specific units collaborating on each presentation). Programming was originated by museum staff, then reviewed by the Advisory Council, to broaden the base of staff involvement in the research, planning, and presentation of this and other folklife endeavors.

The Festival featured several larger and numerous smaller programs; documentation of the 1977 Festival is divided into eight series:

  • • African Diaspora Street Culture
  • • America's Appetite (for Energy)
  • • Folklife in the Museum: Hall of Musical Instruments (including presentations of hammered dulcimers and musical traditions of India)
  • • Folklife in the Museum: A Nation of Nations (including presentations of saddle making, Dunham School lore, Ellis Island & immigrant lore, pencil making, baseball bat turning, ethnic foods, Hispanic crafts)
  • • Folklife in the Museum: Renwick Gallery (including presentations of paint on wood and crafting with natural fibers)
  • • Native American Musical Styles
  • • Other Programs (including presentations of transportation, folklore in your community, family folklore, Louisiana Cajun social music)
  • • Virginia Folk Culture
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