From the first Festival of American Folklife in 1967 through the 1984 Festival, more than 10,000 participants traveled to Washington to share their wisdom and talent with visitors, Festival Director Diana Parker recalled in the 1985 Program Book. In explaining and demonstrating their skills as singers, dancers, musicians, cooks, artisans, storytellers, and workers, they represented legions more in their home communities. Because of the time and knowledge they shared, lives had been enriched, while the cultural understanding of the aesthetic variety in this and other nations had broadened. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian's archive of folklife research and programming experience had grown incrementally each year. There remained much still to be learned, and each participant's story added to our understanding of the mosaic of folk culture.
Festival participants often spoke of their struggle to maintain traditions in the face of overwhelming odds. Each year brought another person to inform visitors, "I am the last who knows how to do this the old way." For this reason the Folklife Programs viewed conservation of culture as an issue equal in urgency to the conservation of natural resources, for the pluralism reflected at each year's Festival would be terrible to lose. The Smithsonian was not, of course, the only organization concerned with cultural conservation. The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress consistently contributed on a national scale to research and preservation of traditional culture. Numerous state and local programs were also hard at work in similar efforts and have made notable contributions. As the National Endowment for the Arts celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1985, the Smithsonian was especially aware of the immense contributions of its Folk Arts Program.
The 1985 Festival took place for two five-day weeks (June 26-30 and July 3-7) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 10th Street and 14th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.
For the 1985 Festival, more than two hundred participants came to Washington to share in a great celebration of cultural diversity. Three thematic programs were presented, complemented by a number of special events. The 1985 Program Book provides information on each of the programs.
The 1985 Festival was co-presented by the Smithsonian Institution and National Park Service and organized by the Office of Folklife Programs. In addition to specific support (acknowledged below) for the Louisiana and Mela! programs, the recording industry provided support in part for the instrumental music in performances at the Festival through the Music Performance Trust Funds (Martin A. Paulson, Trustee).