June 24-July 5, 1998
On January 25, 1998, the Smithsonian Board of Regents voted to change the name of the Festival of American Folklife to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The Folklife and Folkways Archives and Collection of the Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies were also renamed to become the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.
In presenting community cultural life, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival always engages those communities. The 1998 Festival was a good case in point. All of the nearly 75 researchers who documented, analyzed, and recommended traditions and people for the Festival came from the represented communities. Festival curators and senior staff met with researchers, shared experiences from previous Festivals, challenged assumptions, listened, learned, argued, and negotiated the character of the programs. Although not an easy way to craft a cultural representation, this approach nevertheless allowed for an honest, intellectual engagement, with mutual respect and discovery as ther result.
The 1998 Festival hosted programs on Wisconsin, the Río Grande/Río Bravo Basin, the Philippines, and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Wisconsin celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1998, and sought through the Festival to demonstrate to the nation the vitality of its people and their traditions. The Río Grande/Río Bravo region was redefined 150 years ago with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which established a new boundary between Mexico and the United States. The river has a variety of meanings for local communities that were explored on the National Mall. The Philippines first tasted independence 100 years ago, and marked its centennial with activities that gave voice to Filipino peoples, both in the island nation and in the United States. The Baltic nations each demonstrated the richness of their cultural life, and its importance in sustaining the struggle to regain their freedom and independence less than a decade before. Special events celebrated the Festival's founder, Ralph Rinzler, and the 50th anniversary of Folkways Records.
The Festival's million visitors could dance to polkas from Milwaukee, learn borderlands ballads, participate in a Philippine pageant, and marvel at the amber work, flax weaving, and choral songs of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The unexpected also met their eye - a Tibetan sand mandala maker from Wisconsin, a Filipino artisan who fashions musical gongs from bullet casings, a New Mexican pueblo potter who incorporates modern flood stories into her craft, and a Baltic-style St. John's Day ceremony.
The 1998 Festival took place during two five-day weeks (June 24-28 and July 1-5) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 9th Street and 14th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.