One of the best parts about living in the DMV is that the world comes to you. It does this in many ways, and one of the most fun is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, now in its 51st year.
Each year the festival highlights the artists, performers, food, culture and more from selected regions throughout the world, and this year Catalonia and Armenia are featured.
One type of art that Catalonia is especially well-known for is its mosaics. Samples of the colorful craft are on display, and tables are set up with pieces of tile, cups of glue and paper plates for children to make their own art.
In a similar assemblage style, artisans in a nearby tent were cutting up flowers with scissors to make flower carpets, another Catalonian artform. Petals are crushed and mixed with sand and laid out to form beautiful patterns and designs. The region hosts its own Flower Carpet Festival every June.
One artform that draws lots of spectators and excitement is the human towers. To create the tower, team members stand in a circle and stand atop each others’ shoulders. To add enough strength to make the feat possible, dozens of team members surround the circle and add support by pushing on the bottom of the tower. A local explaining it to festival visitors referred to it as a kind of human scaffolding.
The crowning touch is a child, or a very small adult, who scales the tower, gets to the top, raises her hand to signal the culmination, and then the tower is dismantled.
Because it is so difficult to hold the tower for very long, the teams’ goal is to assemble the tower in six minutes and dismantle it in two. These towers are popular at the regions spring festivals, but the speaker said that teams perform throughout Catalonia every weekend from April through October. In the off season, they practice skills involving balance and increasing speed when climbing.
Clay pottery is also an important craft in Catalonia, and several artisans worked pottery wheels, occasionally allowing a visitor a turn. Festival-goers could admire the finished vessels covering a table, waiting their turn in the kiln.
On the Armenian side, artisans carved seemingly impossibly intricate designs into stone and wood with hammers and chisels. Pieces of each material sat out on tables with tools for visitors to try.
In another tent, a young woman wove a rug elaborately adorned with flowers and swirls of color. Nearby, doilies, dresses, felted and crocheted ornaments, and other needle crafts were on display.
Throughout the day, visitors can hear bands play music from each featured region. Inside gazebos, residents of each region hold talks with a translator on a variety of topics — fire traditions, innovation and tradition, cultural heritage — at which visitors are allowed to ask questions of the lecturers.
Dance performances, concerts and cooking demonstrations are held as are workshops in various arts and crafts, including sculpting, weaving, mosaic-making, drawing and making shadow puppets.
Each country offers a delectable selection of its culinary cuisine. D.C’s own Jose Andres hails from Catalonia — read his interview with SI and find out what inspires him.
Don’t miss this amazing opportunity virtually visit parts of the world you may never get the opportunity to see in real life.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (evening concerts most nights at 6:30 p.m.) July 4-8, National Mall.