What Do Curators Do When They’re Not Curating?

Betty Belanus and her interns convene at the Volunteer Tent for an afternoon meeting. Standing, left to right: Interns Hester Clarke, Casey Carlson and Lauren Lauzon, and Accessibility Aide Brendon Ziebarth; seated, left to right: Interns Meghan Burke and Jeremy Krones, and Curator Betty Belanus

I have been working since 1987 at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and have curated too many Festival programs to mention. But, each year when I am not curating a program, there is some assumption that I (and other curators, such as my colleagues Marjorie Hunt and Diana N’Diaye) am not “working on the Festival.”  I get questions from Smithsonian colleagues, long-time Festival volunteers, and others asking if I am going to be at the Festival every day, and if so, what am I doing at the event?  We “curators without a program” often joke that we are almost as busy, if not more so, when we are not curating a program than when we are, because everyone on the Festival staff says to us, “You’re not curating a program… you can do [fill in the blank].” This year, for instance, I am serving as the Accessibility Coordinator for the Festival, trying to make sure visitors with disabilities have a meaningful and comfortable experience. Most days, I am also presenting discussion sessions on the Peace Porch of the Peace Corps program. In addition, I am supervising a group of incredible summer interns, most of whom are working on evaluations of various parts of the Festival to suggest improvements in the future. And, last but not least, I am already working on a program for next year, Land Grant Universities at 150: Research, Learning, and Engagement, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act that created our public university system here in the United States.

So, yes, curators DO “work at the Festival” when they are not curating a program!

Betty Belanus has curated many Smithsonian Folklife Festival programs including Massachusetts (1988), Family Farms in the Heartland (1991), Working at the Smithsonian (1996), African Immigrants to Metropolitan D.C. (1997), New Hampshire (1999), Water Ways: Mid-Atlantic Maritime Communities (2004), The Roots of Virginia Culture (2007), and Wales Smithsonian Cymru.

For more information on what Betty and her team have been doing to make the Festival accessible, click here.