Smithsonian Folklife Festival goes online this year

In this 2005 file photo, Mary Sebold (left) helps escort Doug Baum and his camel back to a holding tent during the Smithsonian Institution’s annual Folklife Festival along the National Mall. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)

Another local summertime event in D.C. has changed up its plans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival will forgo its traditional National Mall location and go virtual this year.

Participants can instead watch daily events spotlighting “the role of culture in addressing today’s global challenges” live on YouTube and Facebook.

Festival Director Sabrina Lynn Motley tells WTOP the virtual event is a disappointment for some, but they were surprised to find that there is a way for people to have meaningful engagement in digital spaces.

“There’s comments and there’s this back-and-forth engaged and vigorous conversation,” says Motley.

“In some ways, it’s able to extend beyond the festival, because people can dip back into these conversations in a way that you wouldn’t do on the Mall because you would probably not see these folks again.”

Motley also says the festival will address the recent racial justice protesting in their own way by providing a “respectful and safe space” for people to get into those issues.

“We are not a political festival. We’re a cultural festival,” says Motley. “We really want to know how artists and their communities are using expressive culture to address these issues, to challenge themselves and others.”

It all begins noon Wednesday with stories of “Earth Optimism.”

Other events include a conversation on “Black religions in the Age of Black Lives Matter”; a discussion on “cross-cultural barbecue” (featuring a pitmaster in the United Arab Emirates); a presentation on innovative solar-powered homes; and a performance by two renowned Latina DJs.

See a full schedule of events on the Smithsonian’s website.

ASL interpretation will be available via Zoom, as will real-time captioning via Streamtext. And organizers say festival merchandise will soon be available through an online store.

The festival runs through July 5.


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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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