Initiated in 1967, the Festival has become an international model for presenting the vitality of contemporary cultural traditions. In producing Festival programs, Smithsonian curators collaborate with partner organizations and communities to conduct research and create strategies for presenting their traditions to a broad public. Through the voices of community members themselves, the Festival shows that cultural traditions are a living, dynamic part of contemporary life.
The 2012 Festival resulted from collaboration with numerous partners, resulting in three Festival programs that looked at ways in which culture, creativity, and ingenuity shape communities. Creativity and Crisis presented the creative response of communities in the U.S. and worldwide to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Campus and Community celebrated the 150th anniversary of the public and land grant university system and showed the ways in which public universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work with communities to strengthen culture and to understand and overcome challenges. The Citified program, presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, celebrated the ways in which artistic expression fosters community in an urban environment. Together, these programs showed the strength and diversity of community-based culture in the United States, fostered a shared appreciation of human creativity, created a deeper understanding of participating communities, and forged lasting connections among participants and visitors.
Special evening concerts included the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert, concerts of Azerbaijani music and of Roma music, concerts spotlighting recent Smithsonian Folkways recordings, and two concerts coorganized with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Bring Back the Funk and Music from Monticello, looking at the broad range of African American music.
The 2012 Festival took place for two five-day weeks (June 27-July 1 and July 4-8) 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. It featured three programs and special events including the Rinzler Concert.