Cultural Representation and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Curators reflect on a half century of the nation’s public presentation of living cultural heritage
Since its origins in 1967, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has gained worldwide recognition as a model for the research and public presentation of living cultural heritage and the advocacy of cultural democracy. Festival curators play a major role in interpreting the Festival's principles and shaping its practices.
Curatorial Conversations brings together for the first time in one volume the combined expertise of the Festival's curatorial staff—past and present—in examining the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s representation practices and their critical implications for issues of intangible cultural heritage policy, competing globalisms, cultural tourism, sustainable development and environment, and cultural pluralism and identity.
In the volume, edited by the staff curators Olivia Cadaval, Sojin Kim, and Diana Baird N’Diaye, contributors examine how Festival principles, philosophical underpinnings, and claims have evolved, and address broader debates on cultural representation from their own experience. This book represents the first concerted project by Smithsonian staff curators to examine systematically the Festival’s institutional values as they have evolved over time and to address broader debates on cultural representation based on their own experiences at the Festival.
"I highly recommend this book for anyone involved in teaching, producing, or attending festivals that frame and represent traditional culture. The book encourages us to expand our thinking and dialogue about how cultural knowledge, competence, and artistry are best shared with the public."- Maggie Holtzberg, Journal of Folklore Research
"Curatorial Conversations, edited by Olivia Cadaval, Sojin Kim, and Diana Baird N'Diaye, is a welcome addition to literature on public and applied folklore. Using the Festival as the fabric, this edited collection explores the many threads of public programming, cultural politics, lessons, reflections, history, and the future of this pioneering, large-scale event."- Jillian Gould, Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 132, No. 523, 2019
"Touting democracy rhetorically is different than steadily working to make it happen. For fifty years, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has been celebrating, recognizing, and documenting the many local-global cultures that make life richly expressive of what's real, everyday, and worthwhile. In an era of shrill, divisive posing, this book is an oasis of thoughtful and thought-provoking reflection on sustained organizing work. This engaged dialogue-driven public curating is cultural democracy in action."- John Kuo Wei Tchen, historian and cofounder of the Museum of Chinese in America