Major Changes Coming to This Year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival


The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns in less than a month, but this year's event will be scaled back compared to previous festivals, occupying a smaller -- and different -- portion of the National Mall.

The changes are due to new rules on the use of the turf, said Sabrina Motley, the director of the festival.

"Those new regulations were imposed by the National Park Service out of a concern for the wear-and-tear big festivals have on the mall," she said.

Some of D.C.'s other big annual events have already decided to move to other locations, something the Folklife Festival organizers decided against.

"We considered it for a moment but the mall is really integral to the festival," Motley said. "It's our home."

So the Folklife Festival will be on the mall, but with some major changes. Instead of featuring multiple cultures or countries, this year's festival will have just one: Peru.

In past years, the festival has occupied the area between 7th and 14th streets. This year, the festival will be at the other end of the mall, situated between 3rd and 4th streets, near the U.S. Capitol.

Motley said that visitors will still have the same cultural experiences they've enjoyed for decades -- but the fest will look different.

"One of the biggest changes this year for the Folklife Festival, there won't be the enormous tents on the mall that you're used to seeing," she said.

"Usually people come out and they [are] large performance tents where we have theater and music and dance, and that will happen in other places but that large tent that usually takes place in the center will no longer be there," Motley said.

Planners have scheduled the festival's biggest concerts for night hours, when it won't be as warm.

"We will have wonderful music; people can bring lawn chairs and blankets and they'll experience this incredible music from Peru," Motley said.

Another change: This year, the festival will take to the streets. Planners will close off both Madison and Jefferson streets, with concession areas on Jefferson.

But there will be something extra. This year, the festival is partnering with the National Museum of the American Indian, which will house more exhibits, as well as a marketplace where visitors can interact with hundreds of craftspeople and buy their creations. The marketplace will be open in the museum's rotunda from June 24 to July 12, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

"We can have another actor in this play and that's the museum, so I don't feel like we're downsizing in any way," Motley said, "because we get this beautiful museum we get to engage as well."

"It'll be very much the Folklife Festival that people know," she said.

The festival runs June 24-28, takes a brief break, and then continues July 1-5. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with special events most evenings beginning at 7 p.m.

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