The Columbus Quincentenary that was commemorated in 1992 gave pause to reflect on the forces that over the preceding 500 years had shaped social life in the Americas. The Festival programs on New Mexico, Maroons, and American Indian musics illustrated important historical and ongoing processes through which communities establish cultural identities in complex and dynamic social circumstances.
"The Changing Soundscape in Indian Country," produced jointly with the National Museum of the American Indian, explored ways that Indian musicians and their communities creatively adapted elements from the musical traditions brought to this continent from Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. Although many of the forms of this Indian music are non-Indian in origin, the themes and performance styles clearly address Indian experience and aesthetic expectations. In their creative hands, as Festival visitors could experience first-hand, external musical influences became part of the self-definition of Indian identity and trenchant commentary on what had been happening in "Indian Country" over the past five centuries.
Nowhere is the connection between creativity and self-definition more clear than in the cultural identities of contemporary Maroon peoples, whose ancestors escaped plantation slavery in the Americas and founded independent societies. Faced with the task of constructing and defending their positions, Maroons creatively defined themselves from a variety of sources. While their political institutions, expressive arts, religions, and other social forms were predominantly African in origin, they drew from a broad range of African cultures, and from European and Native American cultures as well. Much of the aesthetic component of Maroon cultures - their vibrant traditions of verbal and visual arts, shared with Festival visitors on the National Mall - encourages the cohesiveness of their society and voices themes that embody common experience and interest.
The Spanish Conquest established the Western Hemisphere's European presence and its most widely spoken language. While the original conquerors' culture did not value the Native cultures it encountered, over the centuries segments of Hispanic and Native American and later English-speaking and other populations engaged one another, by necessity, in ways that gave rise to today's rich array of cultural identities. New Mexico's distinctive cultural landscape took shape in this way, represented by some peoples who sustain their cultural identities through centuries-old combinations of Indian and European forms of thought and action, and by others whose basis of identity lies in reaffirming the wisdom and relevance of ancestral ways. Festival visitors could witness how, in New Mexico, cultural identity reflects the changes that continue to be wrought from the varieties of these social encounters.
The 1992 Festival also marked the 200th anniversary of the White House. Not a king's palace but rather "the people's house," the White House is at once national symbol, executive office and conference center, ceremonial setting, museum, tourist attraction, and family residence. The Festival revealed the culture of White House workers, who supported this broad array of functions over a span of history shaped by remarkable events, people and social change. White House workers had made the White House work with their labor and dedication. The Festival's living exhibition presented some of the skills, experiences, and values through which they gave shape to their occupational identities, calling visitors' attention to an important human component of the 200 year institutional history.
The 1992 Festival took place during two five-day weeks (June 25-29 and July 2-5) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 10th Street and 13th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.
The 1992 Program Book included schedules and participant lists for each program; keynote essays provided background on the Festival and each of the four programs, with shorter essays spotlighting particular traditions and offering a forum for statements from Maroon spokespeople.
The Festival was co-presented by the Smithsonian Institution and National Park Service and organized by the Center for Folklife Programs & Cultural Studies.