Despite the heat-stroke inducing swamp summers we have around here, the first week of July is one of my favorite times to be a DC resident. Crowds of tourists start packing in, reminding me of how lucky I am not to be battling for a hotel room, and on the 4th we mosey down to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping for a sidewalk hot dog or two on the way. I have never missed a year of fireworks on the National Mall.
The first part of July also means it’s time for another festivity on the Mall that I never miss: the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. As the Smithsonian Institution explains, the festival “is an international exposition of living cultural heritage annually produced outdoors on the National Mall of the United States” and “features community-based cultural exemplars.” What that means is that for two weeks every summer, the Mall is covered with exhibits, demonstrations, crafts, food, dance, and music from the three “folklifes” chosen for that year’s festival. One year I watched a stonemason from Wales demonstrating traditional techniques for carving accent pieces for cathedrals. Another year a Buddhist lama from Bhutan performed a traditional chant. Last year they unrolled the AIDS memorial quilt, the largest piece of community folk art in the world.
A few months ago, I saw a press release for this year’s festival and I was overcome by a little bout of gasping and jumping up and down – the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival is featuring a program called One World, Many Voices. In addition to Hungarian heritage and African-American dress and body art, this year’s festival focuses on and highlights language diversity. Holy cow!!
Curator K. David Harrison, of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society’s Enduring Voices Project, put together this gorgeous program booklet. By my count, speakers from eighteen different threatened and endangered languages will be participating. And guess which happy, lucky blogger has a backstage pass? 🙂
I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. The Smithsonian Institution estimates that every year one million people visit the Folklife Festival. One million people! One million visitors will get to hear the sounds of Garifuna, Kallawaya, and Quechua. One million people will learn about the importance of global linguistic and cultural diversity. Also, it looks like there will be a lot of music and dancing. Pretty. Damn. Cool.
I’ll be posting a lot more about this in the next few days, and please be sure to keep an eye on the Living Tongues blog where they’ve been posting lots updates!