This program celebrated the centenary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Korea, and the equally-long relations between the Smithsonian and Korean scholars. Many of the kinds of traditions the first Smithsonian researchers encountered a century earlier were represented at the 1982 Festival, including musical instrument making, musical performance, pottery making and rituals from the indigenous shamanic religion of Korea. Visitors could also enjoy other venerable traditions including masked dance drama, hemp-cloth and hat making, and the occupational songs of farmers and women divers. Korean Americans presented traditions brought from Korea that have taken root in the American land.
The crafts represented at the Festival were typical of those produced during Korea's late feudal period, which ended with the termination of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Before the eighteenth century, most of the handcraft industries, such as pottery-making, metal smithing, and stone- working, were strictly regulated by the royal court, which controlled much of the country's commerce. During the declining years of the dynasty, however, small cottage industries thrived, as court artisans entered private life and peasant farmers sought to improve their precarious economic situation by producing textiles, baskets, and other crafts for market. On appointed market days in the villages, peddlers, local vendors, and farmers would spread their wares on the ground or in booths, where they could be viewed by passersby. This traditional open-air market remains a feature of modern Korean life, even though many of the older handcrafts were supplanted over the last few decades with machine-manufactured goods.
The great influx of technology to the Republic of Korea in the 1960s and 1970s tended to leave all traditional arts in its wake - both elite and folk traditions. As a result, folk survivals in the 1980s tended to be grouped together with the high arts because they were considered to be old, traditional, venerable. Together with the tendency towards professionalization, this led to the current state of such folk traditions as the Farmer's Dance ( nongak), taught by professional musicians in conservatories. Farmers may still know how to do it, but most people would say that one has to go to the cities to hear it done well, done precisely. If someone in a village turns out to have performing talent, he or she studies with the best masters; then, if really good, it is on to the big city to try to make a career in the performance and recording-studio world.
In choosing and presenting Korean and Korean American participants at the 1982 Festival, Smithsonian organizers sought to explore the range of vernacular styles in music, dance, crafts, foodways, games, and so forth, as expressed through the skills of the best available practitioners. The intention was to provide a glimpse of the country, its cultures, and its peoples.