One of D.C.’s oldest festivals – the Smithsonian Folklife Festival – returns to the Mall this week, from June 29 to July 4, and next week, from July 6 to July 9. Every year, the celebration spans the National Mall with performances, workshops, food, crafts, and displays.
The festival dates back to 1967, when the then-Smithsonian museum director had the idea to take folk traditions to the streets. In just a few months, he racked up funding and secured 58 craftsmen and 32 musical and dance groups to participate in the first Festival of American Folklife.
Not everyone was thrilled though. Some curators worried the festival would threaten their scholarly authority as subject-matter experts. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill residents worried it would “turn the Mall into a midway.”
Nonetheless, over 4,000 visitors flocked to the festival to watch everything from mountain banjo-pickers to Chinese lion dancers. It became a huge success, and the Smithsonian established the festival as an annual tribute.
Now, the event draws in over one million visitors and has hundreds of performers centering around different themes each year.