The goal of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is to present diverse, community-based traditions in an understandable and respectful way. The great strength of the Festival is to connect the public, directly and compellingly, with practitioners of cultural traditions. In 2000, the Festival featured programs on the cultural ecology of the Río Grande/Río Bravo Basin, on Tibetan refugee culture, and on the local traditions of Washington, D.C. Visitors could learn how a cowboy or vaquero from South Texas works cattle, or speak with a Tibetan-American immigrant about the meaning underlying her continued practice of sacred traditions. As an artist's hand guided the eyes of Festival viewers, they could imagine how an urban mural reflects life in Washington, D.C.
The Festival program on the cultures of Washington, D.C., showed the vibrancy of local communities that live in the shadow of national institutions. El Río demonstrated the tenacity of regional culture at the borders, even margins, of Mexico and the United States. The program on Tibetan refugees provided a cultural in-gathering of a diaspora community facing issues of continuity and survival - climaxed by a huge ceremony on the National Mall presided over by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who also offered a public address on the occasion. Overall, the Festival this year demonstrated that, while people may be subject to modern forms of colonization, to unequal power and economic arrangements, and to marginalization, exile, and strife in many forms, they use their cultural traditions as sources of strength, resistance, and creativity to cope with and overcome their travail. Culture, after all, is a means of human adaptation. Just because people may be economically poor or politically powerless does not necessarily mean that their cultures are brittle or bereft of value.
The Festival has long had an especially significant impact on those artists, musicians, cooks, and ritual specialists who participate directly in it. The attention they receive usually fortifies their intent to pass on their traditions to children, apprentices, and students, just as it sometimes encourages cultural exemplars to extend their creativity by connecting it to broader civic and economic issues. The Festival's rich cultural dialogue on the National Mall was considered to be particularly significant for American civic life at the dawn of the 21st century, as we enter an era in which no single racial or ethnic group will be a majority. The Festival allows a broad array of visitors to understand cultural differences in a civil, respectful, and educational way. Little wonder it has become a model for public cultural presentation, adopted by organizations elsewhere in the United States and in other democratic nations.
The 2000 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 14th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.