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1994 Festival of American Folklife

July 1-10, 1994

The 1994 Festival featured four programs. In The Bahamas program, Americans could find intriguing connections to a shared history embodied in the traditions of the descendants of Africans, free and enslaved, British Loyalists, Seminoles, and many other immigrants. More than just beautiful sun, sea, and sand, The Bahamas, and especially its Family Islands, are home to a rich diversity of cultural communities and practices. Also on the Mall, yet half a world away, was Thailand, a nation that never acceded to colonial rule and whose ancient traditions are very much alive in contemporary households, temples, and the royal court. Given the growing economic and political importance of Asia and the Pacific Rim, visitors had the opportunity to better understand Thailand's cultural traditions. The program on Culture and Development, a collaborative effort with the Inter-American Foundation, recognized the value of local cultural resources and practitioners and their role in development efforts. A strategy of appropriately utilizing a community's cultural resources often succeeds not only in stimulating economic growth, but also in promoting self-worth and popular participation in civic life. The program on Masters of Traditional Arts paid tribute to National Heritage Fellowship awardees from 17 states representing a broad range of American traditions. The awards, made annually by the National Endowment for the Arts, honor our human national treasures, those exemplary folk artists whose work expresses the history, identity, beliefs, and values of their communities.

These programs were seen by Smithsonian organizers as more than just separate living exhibits. As a whole, they demonstrated convincingly that across the United States and around the world, traditional culture was with us, not just as atomistic survivals, but as part of social fabrics woven by individuals, communities, and nations. The folks at the Festival live contemporary lives. They are just as contemporary as the genetic engineer, cable television network shopper, or government bureaucrat. The traditions they carry are embedded in modern life. Yes, sometimes we find these traditions are on the margins, but most often they are in an ongoing, creative tension with new innovations and technical and social changes. These traditional ways of doing, making, and being are continually, sometimes even daily, reinvented and applied to the circumstances of individual and institutional life. Innovation and tradition are not opposites, but are processually related to how we use our cultural inheritance - whether that be in music or the museum, handicraft or statecraft - to define and shape the future. The dialogue created at the Festival, in which cultural traditions were respectfully presented, discussed, and even passed along, was therefore considered to be vital to our continued civic health.

On the second day of the 1994 Festival, its founder Ralph Rinzler passed away after a long illness. On July 7, 1994, a memorial service was organized by Ralph's friends and associates (see the recordings in the Masters of Traditional Arts program). Clydia and Reeves Nahwooksy provided a Comanche Baptist invocation. Mile Seeger, Guy Carawan, and Bill Monroe played and sang. Bernice Reagon sang, as did the Bahamians. Bess Hawes, Jeffrey LaRiche, Ann Romano, and James Early spoke of his legacy. Memorial messages were read from Pete Seeger, Alan Lomax, Henry Glassie, Roger Abrahams, Rajeev Sethi, and others. Lucille Dawson spoke about the profound effects the Festival's Native American programs had had on Indian education and civil rights, and Mike Thomas spoke for the Smithsonian custodians who always found in Ralph a friend and supporter. Other impromptu memorials were conducted by the Bahamian and Thai participants.

The 1994 Festival took place during two four-day weeks (July 1-4 and July 7-10) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 12th Street and 14th Street, south of the National Museum of American History.

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