This article reads the Smithsonian's annual folklife festival as a cultural product buffeted by changing material conditions and funding constraints as the United States transitioned from a Fordist industrial economy to a post-Fordist information economy. Based upon visitor interviews, promotional materials, and news reports, this article argues that the transition from a national to an international framework reconfigured the role of Appalachia in visitors' imaginations. In 2002, Appalachia represented ideals of "nation" and "home" in contrast to tantalizing and threatening foreign cultures and allowed visitors to entertain the wishful belief that the United States was a simple place peopled by simple denizens innocent of imperial ambitions.
Site design is an essential but overlooked underpinning to the festival-making process at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Through effective layout, structures, and captioning, spatial strategies undergird a program concept and crystallize the interpretive frame for performance. This article traces the 1989 Hawai'i program's site design from the initial concept to the preperformance stage. It examines the tension between hegemonic festival parameters and the organizers' efforts to problematize colonially inflected narratives, and it argues that rather than being a passive backdrop for performance, the Hawai'i program site design was a discursive field rife with contradiction and conflict.
This article examines issues related to cross-cultural encounters through the presentation of Filipino folk culture at the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (SFF). Embedded in the project were issues of power—historical and current, actual and virtual—related to the differing U.S. relationships with the Philippines. I suggest ways in which Philippine values and modes of thinking determined or at least influenced the inception and reception of events, constructed communication, and informed Filipino intent in this particular presentation across cultures. I consider modes of complicity and responsibility that referenced Filipino and American experiences throughout the project.
This article on the Republic of Mali's involvement in the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival examines conflicting conceptions of the nation-state as a framework for understanding the purpose of the festival. Its descriptions of the stage performances and commentary of members of Tartit—the sole music ensemble representing the Tuareg communities of Mali's northern Saharan region—enable analysis of a complex set of artistic, political, and economic dynamics unfolding within and beyond both Mali and the time and space of the festival. It demonstrates how the group's efforts highlighted the power of distinctly national pressures to impinge upon marginal artists' thoughts and actions.
At the Festival of American Folklife, presenters are key mediators between culture bearers and festival visitors, fostering, in theory, dialogic cultural exchange. Examining the African Immigrant Folklife Program (1997), I evaluate the successes and failures of the presenter's position and the specific challenges of presenting African diasporic cultures at the festival. This first scholarly investigation of this key role concludes that many visitors overlook the presenters as they visually consume the sights on the Mall.
This note examines the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, entitled "The Silk Road: Creating Culture, Connecting Trust," and focuses specifically on the work of the Central Asian and Japanese fashion designers. I explore how participants and presenters related to one another, considering many were strangers from different countries and social backgrounds when they arrived on the National Mall. The note demonstrates the contested interactions between the various designers and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH), particularly between the Japanese group and the CFCH. I posit that the varying agendas of the participants, the festival's principal designer, and the CFCH administration challenged the larger goal of creating a unified pan-Asian identity.