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1996 Festival of American Folklife

June 26-July 7, 1996

In 1996, questions of national unity and purpose remained as salient as they had been twenty years before, for the Bicentennial Festival - yet there was also much to celebrate, and good cause to do so. On the state level, the year marked the 150th anniversary of Iowa statehood; on the international level, it marked the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics; and for the nation and the world, the Smithsonian celebrated its 150th anniversary. Each of these anniversaries recalled what we value as Americans and helped set our course for the future.

The 1996 Festival joined with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to present a program on the culture of the American South, both on the National Mall and, before a world audience, back home in Atlanta during the Olympic Games. The Olympics symbolize people from the world over coming together in common athletic and artistic purposes. Just as a watershed is fed by the confluence of numerous streams, so too does the culture of the South represent the confluence of Native American, African, and European traditions, joining together with a stream of visitors from around the globe.

Iowa, which celebrated its sesquicentennial on the National Mall, is known as the land between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and symbolizes an important cultural watershed. For many, Iowa represents grassroots America, our heartland. The land and the rivers give Iowans a strong sense of purpose, and have nourished the value of community life as a centerpiece in our national consciousness - a value that was ever-present in the Iowa Festival program.

The Smithsonian, which has grown into the world's foremost national scientific, historical, and artistic complex, represents yet another kind of cultural watershed. It collects aspects of America's heritage, documenting the ebb and flow of history over the years and across the nation, and encourages visitors to find themselves in its never-ending course. For its 150th anniversary, visitors had a chance to peer behind the scenes and to meet Smithsonian workers in every field.

The Smithsonian saw the Festival as a wonderful way to help celebrate the anniversaries of these institutions, for like them, the Festival stands as a tribute to our own ability to speak with each other, to share our cultures and traditions, and to do so in a civil, tolerant, respectful, and enlightening way. The Festival itself is an enduring institution, and in 1996 it marked its own thirtieth event in typical fashion - by working hard to amplify the voices of others.

The 1996 Festival took place during two five-day weeks (June 26-30 and July 3-7) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 9th Street and 13th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.

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