You know what’s coming. You venture out onto the mall, and the heat rises up from the ground, penetrating your sneakers that are covered in the dust that billows up with each step you take. The Washington Monument appears to undulate in the midday sun and you try to focus through the glare, but your sunglasses keep sliding down your nose.

It’s almost time for The Smithsonian Folklife Festival!


Traditionally held downtown on the National Mall at the hottest time of the year, the festival delivers a generous dose of culture to the visitors who come from far and wide to experience the traditions of other civilizations.

In years past, the festival highlighted the culture of two or three countries, areas or institutions, and each offered exhibitions of their customs, including dance performances, storytelling, artwork, demonstrations by craftspeople and of course, food. The festival had to scale back when the mall was covered with backhoes and big piles of dirt, but they’re back in full force now.

This year’s themes are circus arts and immigration and migration — certainly some trending topics these days.

Circus Arts

Although Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus recently packed up its last tent, circus acts are not dead. The market may have a few more unemployed acrobats than it used to, but that just gives some upstart circuses more of a chance.

A Big Top circus tent will be erected on the mall, but no elephants will be exploited in the labor involved. Inside, visitors will be treated to performances and demonstrations by acrobats, aerialists and others. And professionals will run workshops that will teach some of the tricks of the trade. Visitors will get to interact with and ask questions of coaches, artists, musicians, technicians and more.

When you think of immigration and migration, you may think of Dorothea Lange and Tom Joad, but this exhibition is different. “On the Move: Migration Across Generations” will feature hip-hop artists like Christylez Bacon, muralists and poetry slams.

On the Move

The focus is on youth, and how their movement shapes the future. Immigration isn’t only for the young, but the truth is that they’re often the bravest and the strongest, so they’re the ones who are willing to take the risk.

50th Anniversary

This is a special year for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival — it’s turning 50! The Smithsonian has for many years been called the nation’s attic, because of the many wonderful treasures it stores. But they are mostly objects, and what the festival brought, when it was conceived in 1967, was a living, breathing exhibit, where visitors could interact with the lessons being taught.

Wear comfortable old shoes, pack lots of water and slather on the sunscreen, but don’t miss the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival!

Thursday, June 29 – Tuesday, July 4, and Thursday, July 6 – Sunday, July 9; National Mall between Seventh and 12th streets; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, evening dance parties at 5:30 p.m. and circus performances at 7 p.m.; Free.

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