As of January 1999, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies was renamed the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The 1999 Festival hosted programs on New Hampshire, Romania, and South Africa. A central theme was the ability of diverse people from three continents, living with incredible societal changes, to use their own deeply held cultural traditions as a means of crafting their own identities, their own stories, their and our very future.
Celebrating New Hampshire's Stories pointed to the many ways people from that fiercely democratic state define their lives. The state's natural bounty is continually expressed in the arts and enjoyed with the help of varied crafts and skills that serve a vibrant recreational and tourism industry. Economic life illustrates ingenuity and a historic continuity with traditional manufacture, both in large corporate workplaces and smaller, high-tech, precision manufacturing shops. Community life reflects a strong investment in the historic preservation of the built environment and participation in institutions such as town meetings, contra dances, and soirées that bring people together just when other forces in society tend to keep them apart. And the life of our nation itself is dramatically shaped by the most contemporary of conversations that traditionally occur in New Hampshire cafes and living rooms during presidential primary campaigns. These stories were recounted to Festival visitors by the participants from New Hampshire.
Gateways to Romania was an apt title for what was, in effect, an opening at the Festival of relationships between the American and Romanian people. The Festival program, and the process of achieving it, represented an important collaboration between Romania and the United States. Following decades of political repression, Romanians at the end of the 20th century were seeking the means of realizing a democratic and humane society. The cultural correlates of such a society are freedom of cultural expression, and the ability to practice and preserve one's traditions as well as create new cultural syntheses. Romania had long been a cultural crossroads with Latinate, Orthodox, Balkan, Germanic, Hungarian, Roma, Turkish, and Jewish influences in music, song, dance, craftsmanship, sacred and culinary arts. The Festival provided both a showcase and a means for culture-rich Romania to use its treasures, for the benefit of its own citizens and to inform Americans about its people and heritage.
South Africa: Crafting the Economic Renaissance of the Rainbow Nation revealed the attempts of thousands of community-based craftspeople to enhance their economic development and civic participation through their artistry. Crafts in South Africa are as diverse as the Rainbow Nation itself, drawing upon the generations-old traditions of indigenous people and those of Asian and European immigrant communities, from functional crafts of everyday use to the arts of survival that developed community while at the same time earning income for a family's livelihood. The Festival was part of an ongoing attempt to build upon the knowledge and skills of local-level artists in order to help build a new nation based upon human and cultural rights and economic opportunity.
The 1999 Festival coincided with the Smithsonian-UNESCO conference, A Global Assessment of the 1989 UNESCO Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore: Local Empowerment and International Cooperation. At that important meeting, participants called for the creation of an international legal instrument to reinforce the protection of intangible cultural heritage, what later became the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The 1999 Festival took place during two five-day weeks (June 23-27 and June 30-July 4) 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.