In the 1990 Program Book, Secretary Robert McC. Adams noted that the Festival of American Folklife, the annual extension of the Smithsonian onto the National Mall of the United States, was a long-lived national and international model for the research and presentation of living culture. Emphasizing the Smithsonian's commitment to cultural pluralism, Adams pointed to the Festival ais an example of cultural pluralism in research, exhibition development, and public education. In 1990, programs on the folklife of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the cultures of Senegal, and the Musics of Struggle presented people with much to say about the cultures they represented, but whose voices were not frequently heard in national or international cultural forums. Field research to develop those programs was conducted largely by academic and lay scholars from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senegal, and the featured communities, and usually in close collaboration with local cultural institutions. Program interpretation was multivocal, as tradition bearers, local scholars, and Smithsonian curators spoke for themselves, with each other, and to the public. Together they created a rich, pluralistic, and knowledgeable perspective in the Festival presentations.
The 1990 Festival took place for two five-day weeks (June 27-July 1 and July 4-8) 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.
The 1990 Program Book included schedules and participant lists for each program; the Program Book featured substantial essays laying out in depth the rationale for the Festival as a whole and for each of the three Festival programs, complemented by shorter pieces focusing on particular topics (not all of which were presented on the National Mall).
The Festival was co-presented by the Smithsonian Institution and National Park Service and organized by the Office of Folklife Programs.