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June 24, 2012

2012 Festival Preview with Festival Director Stephen Kidd

Smithsonian Folklife Festival Director Stephen Kidd with 2011 Rhythm and Blues program participants Dr. Mable John and William Bell. Photo by Ariel Fielding.

I sat down with Stephen Kidd, director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, to talk about what makes this year’s program special.

“The exciting thing is that we have three programs that focus on community engagement in the United States,” Stephen observed. “These explorations of community will challenge visitors on notions of tradition and community. We hope they’ll go back to their own families and communities with a richer understanding of what identity and community may mean to them.”

“The Crisis and Creativity program takes a new approach to older traditions built around quilting. It places the AIDS Memorial Quilt in a fuller context, especially for a new generation that may not be familiar with The Quilt. Visitors will not only get to see and touch The Quilt, but also to meet and talk with panel makers and the people behind The NAMES Project Foundation. Visitors will explore the human story behind The Quilt and see the communities that have been built around it.”

“The Campus and Community program looks at large institutions—such as land-grant universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture—and the ways in which these institutions engage the people around them, and also how they help preserve traditions and help solve problems collaboratively. The interaction and relationships between the institutions and the people around them are what makes these local communities such important elements of our national community.

“The Citified program focuses on how artistic expression and tradition help build community. Art brings together people who might not normally meet. This is the case with many of the communities and groups who are coming from East of the Anacostia River in D.C., such as the Anacostia Rollers (which is a community roller-skating group) and the Smooth & EZ Hand Dance Institute.  These traditions help create community in what might otherwise be a dense, anonymous urban social landscape.”

“Come and expect to spend enough time here to see all three programs. You’ll run into something unexpected, which will create a new window for you to look through and a new path for you to follow. You’ll find yourself talking to someone you never expected to talk to.”

The 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival runs from June 27 to July 1 and July 4 to July 8 on the National Mall.

Stephen Kidd has been director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival since 2010; previously he served as the Festival’s production manager.

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