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Celebration of Heritage and Culture – Folklife Festival Turns 50!

From the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Website.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an international exposition of living cultural heritage annually produced outdoors on the National Mall of the United States in Washington, D.C., by the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

The Festival takes place for two weeks every summer overlapping the Fourth of July holiday. It is an educational presentation that features community-based cultural exemplars. Free to the public, like other Smithsonian museums, each Festival typically draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Initiated in 1967, the Festival has become a national and international model of a research-based presentation of contemporary living cultural traditions. Over the years, it has brought more than 2,300 musicians, artists, performers, craftspeople, workers, cooks, storytellers, and others to the National Mall to demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and aesthetics that embody the creative vitality of community-based traditions.

Arranged by geographic or cultural themes, the Festival has featured exemplary tradition bearers from more than 90 nations, every region of the United States, scores of ethnic communities, more than a hundred American Indian groups, and some 70 different occupations.

The Festival generally includes daily and evening programs of music, song, dance, celebratory performance, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling, illustrations of workers’ culture, and narrative sessions for discussing cultural issues.

The Festival is an exercise in cultural democracy, in which cultural practitioners speak for themselves, with each other, and to the public. The Festival encourages visitors to participate—to learn, sing, dance, eat traditional foods, and converse with people presented in the Festival program.

Like other Smithsonian museums, the Festival includes exhibition-quality signs, photo-text panels, a program book/catalog, learning centers, a marketplace, and food concessions. In recreating physical
settings for the traditions represented, the Festival has built a horse racetrack (from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building), an Indian village with forty-foot-high bamboo and paper statues, a Japanese rice paddy, and a New Mexican adobe plaza.

The Festival is a complex production, over the years drawing on the research and presentational skills of more than a thousand folklorists, cultural anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and numerous other academic and lay scholars. Its production involves the expertise of hundreds of technical staff, the efforts of volunteers, and the backing of sponsors and supporters.

The Festival has strong impacts on policies, scholarship, and folks “back home.” Many states and several nations have remounted Festival programs locally and used them to generate laws, institutions, educational programs, books, documentary films, recordings, and museum and traveling exhibitions. In many cases, the Festival has energized local and regional tradition bearers and their communities and, thus, helped to conserve and create cultural resources. Festival practice served as both the backdrop and inspiration for the consideration and ultimately the development of UNESCO’s 2003 International Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Festival was a centerpiece of the U.S. Bicentennial, lasting for three months in 1976; it has provided models for numerous Presidential Inaugural programs, the Black Family Reunion, the Los Angeles Festival, Southern Crossroads for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the Smithsonian’s 150th Birthday Party on the Mall, the National World War II Reunion, the First Americans Festival celebrating the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian, and Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration in honor of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As the largest annual cultural event in the U.S. capital, the Festival receives considerable publicity, typically reaching forty million readers and viewers through print and electronic media. In the past, the Festival was named the Top Event in the U.S. by the American Bus Association as a result of a survey of regional tourist bureaus—thus joining previous winners that include the Olympics and the World Expo. The Festival has also been the subject of numerous books, documentary films, scholarly articles, and debate.

Circus Arts

June 29-July 4 and July 6-9, 2017

Since President George Washington attended John Bill Ricketts’ circus in Philadelphia in 1793, circus arts have intrigued generations of audiences throughout the United States. For many Americans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the circus brought glimpses of a wider world through dazzling sights, sounds, and stunts. Now with new grassroots initiatives and innovations, the country is seeing a revival of interest and creativity in circus arts.

Circus arts have evolved over time to reflect changing social tastes and values, technological innovations, and performance styles. Immigrants from all over the world continue to contribute their creativity and skills, foods, languages, rituals, and other customs that enrich the circus arts.  Across the country, emerging youth and social circuses and schools provide new opportunities for artistic expression.

Marking its fiftieth anniversary in 2017, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will bring the rich history, mystique and diversity of circus arts to life on the National Mall. But visitors will see more than just a performance—we’ll take you behind the scenes to learn from generations of American circus families and contemporary visionaries who are keeping the circus arts alive and engaging.

Meet artists and coaches, costume designers, makeup artists, musicians, lighting and sound technicians, prop and tent designers, riggers, poster artists, wagon builders, cooks, and many others whose collective creative work brings the circus to life. Along with new students and celebrated masters, experience the many dimensions of circus arts through performances, demonstrations, and workshops under a big top tent and other colorful venues.

Aerialists and acrobats will demonstrate their gravity-defying disciplines, combining strength and skill with grace and daring. Equilibrists and object manipulators will share their tricks that date from ancient times. Clowns will demonstrate mesmerizing transformations, tapping into the human heart and spirit.

The 2017 Folklife Festival program will provide many opportunities for experiential exploration of the life and work of circus people in America today. Join us in Washington, D.C., June 29 through July 4 and July 6 through 9 on the National Mall between Seventh and Twelfth streets, adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle.


DC Wants to Raise the Sustainability Bar

A proposal being put forth by the DC Council will further incentivize workers to abandon their single occupant vehicles for more sustainable means of getting to work, mostly biking, walking and transit.  The goal? To get 75% of commuters using sustainable forms of transportation.

According to a March article in the Washington Post, the DC Council will be one of the first major metropolitan areas to adopt an enforceable program that brings equal benefits to commuters who

choose to leave their cars behind and take alternative modes to work.  Employers who offer free parking will be required to offer transit benefits to employees, thus encouraging them to abandon their single occupant vehicles.

According to the Post article, Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the lead sponsor of the bill, contends:

The change… would address a fairness issue for the workers who sometimes turn down a valuable perk because they don’t drive or who are forced to take it because otherwise they can’t get the benefit any other way.

The Transportation Benefits Equity Amendment Act of 2017 is one response to growing criticism that historically commuter benefits for drivers are better than those available to people who take other modes of transportation. For instance, a few years ago, transit agencies including Metro fought for parity in transit and parking in the federal commuter benefits program, which three years ago gave commuters the option to spend up to $130 on public transit pretax vs. $250 for parking. That started to change in 2015, and this year the cap for the transit benefit and the parking benefit is $255 per month.

Currently, the District Department of Transportation indicates that about 40 percent of commuters drive to their place of employment.  Reducing this to 25% will be a formidable task, but providing incentives, as the Council intends to do, is a proven method in energizing commuters to change their behavior.


Old Folks on Spokes Storm Charm City

By Doug Pickford

Growing up I became a little familiar with Baltimore mainly through trips to Memorial and Camden Yards stadiums to see the Orioles play.  In college I befriended a couple Baltimoreans and made a few more forays into the City with them.  But over a recent weekend, I really got to see and learn more about Charm City than I had ever imagined.

The celebration of my nephew’s wife’s 40th birthday (a young folk on spokes) offered us the ability to plan a surprise expedition to Baltimore.  Unbeknownst to her, we planned a long weekend of activities and surprises.  One such activity was a guided bike tour of the City…a great decision on so many counts.

Recently my wife, friends and I (the Old Folks) have a modus operandi that involves booking bike tours in cities we visit.  We’ve done such tours in places like Boston and New Orleans, and more recently Baltimore.  On every tour we’ve taken, we have found the tour guides (and companies) to be extremely knowledgeable and super friendly.  These tours are developed for novice riders and can usually include children (see tour guidelines when booking for specifics).

A huge advantage of doing bike tours instead of say, a walking tour, is that you are able to see far more areas of the city you are visiting.  In Baltimore, we covered just about every neighborhood in the inner city in a three hour timeframe.  For our tour, we booked with Light Street Cycles, located in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore.  On our arrival (there were 12 Old Folks), bikes were tagged and ready to go.  After a few slight adjustments, we hit the streets.

Riding a few of the less traveled back streets in Federal Hill, you quickly realize why Baltimore is given the Charm City nickname – it is a truly charming place!  Federal Hill reminds you of so many inner city areas that are fast becoming destinations where millennials are moving to… nice, well kept row homes in walkable (and bikeable) communities located close to downtown areas of employment.  Bike lanes are appearing on most streets and access to places like the Inner Harbor is easy.

Our itinerary took us from Federal Hill to Ft. McHenry, back to the Under Armour headquarters, Domino Sugar, Baltimore Museum of Industry, Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Edgar Allen Poe’s grave, Babe Ruth’s birthplace, Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium…not to mention many unnamed neighborhoods and sections of the city in between.  All along our guide reminded us of how “feisty” Baltimoreans were (and possibly still are) known to be, hinging many of their early fortunes on being privateers – or legal pirates who pillaged foreign ships for the government’s benefit.

Joined by four additional riders midway through the ride, the Light Street guides certainly had a large contingent to deal with on city streets.  Huge kudos go out to this company, as they made for an incredibly enjoyable, safe and informative tour.  I highly recommend Light Street should you venture to Baltimore and want to experience more than just the Inner Harbor (which is what most people do).  Friendly, affordable and incredibly knowledgeable – perhaps the Light Street folks forgot to be feisty – or perhaps they simply are becoming more charming!

Light Street Cycles
1124 Light Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230


Are You Happy Now?

If not, well…perhaps you want to move to Fremont, California (#1 Ranking Baby!), or Sioux Falls, South Dakota (merely 5th).  These are two communities that outranked Washington, D.C. as being some of the “Happiest Places to Live,” according to a recent survey conducted by WalletHub.

How are these rankings compiled, one might ask?  The survey asked about adequate sleep rates (you know Washingtonians don’t sleep – bad!), lowest and highest depression rates (as a political town, that is probably a wash), the most worked hours (we’re in the tank because we are a town of workaholics), income growth (now we gotcha!), obesity rate (not going there), and sports participation levels (well if you’re talking residents – extremely high, professional teams – ugh – but on the incredible rise!).

So Washington came in 10th behind a few notables, but at least we rank!  Perhaps this survey occurred prior to the recent news that both the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raider football teams were bolting their respective communities?  They ranked 7th and 8th respectively – perhaps we’ve jumped them since Daniel Snyder hasn’t bolted Washington yet?

Eight of the ten top winners were California cities.  Sioux Falls and Washington were the outliers.  Hmm…Is California that far ahead of the rest of the country in “happiness”?  If so, then they must sleep a lot, are chilled, work when they want, are not worried about money, spend a lot of time eating well and working out (see money), and play and enjoy a lot of sports.   Well, sounds pretty much like a darn happy place to me!  But we still love Washington for what it is – A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE MORE AND COMMUTE LESS!  And to BE HAPPY!

The Top Ten Happiest Place to Live

1. Fremont, CA
2. San Jose, CA
3. Irvine, CA
4. San Francisco, CA
5. Sioux Falls, SD
6. Huntington Beach, CA
7. San Diego, CA
8. Oakland, CA
9. Santa Rosa, CA
10. Washington, D.C.

McAuliffe Appoints Former USDOT Secretary LaHood To Find METRO Fixes

On March 23rd Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to oversee an independent panel to look into METRO’s long term financial needs and regional means of governance.  Both topics have been under increasing scrutiny by all federal, state and local players who have a stake in making METRO “whole” again.

Consistent, dedicated funding has been a thorn in the side of METRO for decades, hampering its ability to provide consistent and adequate resources to operations and maintenance.  As a result, over this past year riders have experienced a series of “Safety Surges” which have addressed long overdue maintenance, but have also negatively impacted service.  The LaHood appointment may signal a turning point, in which a mostly independent (though funded by Virginia but supported by both Maryland and the District of Columbia) panel will delve into the politically charged issues of funding and governance.

LaHood brings to the table a bipartisan background, having served as both a Republican congressman from Illinois and as Secretary of Transportation under President Obama from 2009 – 2013.  LaHood also brokered an agreement on federal and state funding disputes for the Silver Line with many of the Washington metropolitan stakeholders.  LaHood comes to the table well respected and with a very credible background in transportation and governing.

Among the myriad of concerns facing METRO, LaHood will attempt to find solutions to continued federal funding for METRO, while also allaying fears of a federal control board.  Recognizing that METRO must transform itself to survive, LaHood’s appointment by Governor McAuliffe clearly sends a signal to all that Virginia is seriously vested in METRO and wants to see this vital public transit system succeed.