The 1998 Festival program formed part of a larger, multi-year Río Grande/Río Bravo Basin project that included:
• Folklife Field Research Schools held in Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado to train local academic and community scholars and to direct local research for the Folklife Festival and other public programs;
• Production of local public programs in collaboration with local organizations to present research carried out in the region (sponsored by Texas Folklife Resources and the Texas Council for the Humanities);
• Smithsonian Folklife Festival programs for 1998 and 2000;
• Production of a traveling exhibition, educational materials, and a film documentary.
This collaborative training and research approach built upon several years of work with binational institutions, researchers, and community members, some of whom had participated in earlier Smithsonian projects in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands region. The particular challenge was to research, plan, and produce a program on how local cultures contribute to a sustainable river-basin environment. The Smithsonian's approach was to engage scholars, educators, and individuals - whether formally or nonformally trained - who are involved in community cultural work. We sought to understand relationships between culture and environment and to see how contemporary traditions can be relevant to balancing human prosperity with environmental sustainability. Three questions guided the project: 1) What kinds of communities live in the region today? 2) What is their traditional knowledge for managing the environment? 3) Can local culture provide a foundation for sustainable development projects?
These questions led to in-depth explorations of the many meanings of the Río Grande/Río Bravo. The 1998 Festival offered initial answers through a small Festival program that previewed cultural regions, expressive traditions, and issues that were featured in subtantially greater depth at the 2000 Festival program, El Río.
Olivia Cadaval and Cynthia L. Vidaurri were Curators, and Heidi McKinnon was Program Coordinator; Patricia Fernandez de Castro was Research Advisor.
This project was cosponsored by El Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes with support from the U.S.- Mexico Fund for Culture (The Rockefeller Foundation, Fundación Cultural Bancomer, the Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes), SBC Foundation, Texas Folklife Resources, and the Texas Council for the Humanities. Folklife Fieldwork Research Schools were supported by Colorado College, Tierra Wools, the University of New Mexico, University of Texas-Pan American, and a grant from Smithsonian Outreach Funds.