Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns with focus on UAE traditions and ‘Earth Optimism’

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From June 22 to July 4, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to the National Mall in D.C., with an emphasis on the cultural traditions of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and creating an optimistic, sustainable future.

The festival, which has been a summer mainstay in D.C. since 1967, was put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions and other pandemic concerns.



The official festival dates are June 22-27 and from June 30 through the Fourth of July. It will open with an evening concert and feature multiple free events for the public. Selected concerts and daily conversations will be livestreamed as well.

Here are some upcoming highlights for this year’s festival:

UAE “Living Landscape | Living Memory”

UAE culture and tradition are featured in the 2022 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. (Courtesy Smithsonian)

Living Landscape | Living Memory” explores the cultural traditions of the UAE after its founding in 1971.

Through workshops, art, cuisine, music concerts, falconry demonstrations, poetry readings, perfume sampling and a great deal more, you can learn how a region steeped in tradition brings itself into the 21st century.

There will also be an exploration of how traditions for the urban nation, past and present, can be “resources for connecting communities and envisioning a sustainable future.”

“Traditional knowledge has an important role to play in finding solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems,” Folklife Festival Director Sabrina Lynn Motley said. “In the UAE, it’s possible to encounter dynamic links between past, present and future in everything from green technologies to extraordinary poetry.”

Earth Optimism

Earth Optimism and HHMI Tangled Bank Studio present a
free screening of My Garden of a Thousand Bees on June 24.
Photo by Martin Dohrn / © Passion Planet

Another focus of the festival is the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism program which aims to refocus the debate on climate change from “despair and gloom to optimism and possibility.”

According to organizers, visitors to the festival “will encounter examples of practical solutions and positive change presented by community leaders, innovators, scientists, artists and others working to create a sustainable planet.”

“Visitors can learn how to make an impact on a local-to-global scale through workshops, performances, interactive art installations, film screenings including a special presentation of ‘My Garden of a Thousand Bees,’ hands-on educational activities, cooking and gardening demonstrations, sustainable food concessions and more.”

“Earth Optimism shows us how to find hope in the face of odds that might seem overwhelming. It reminds us that change happens when we focus on what works — when we collaborate to find solutions and celebrate our successes,” Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch said.

On the side

Falconry is the most valued traditional sport in the UAE, with
increasing participation from women, including falconer,
trainer, and Festival participant Ayesha Al Mansoori.
Photo by Vidhyaa Chandramohan

In addition to main festival attractions, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art will feature “Falcons: The Art of the Hunt.” Complimenting the UAE on falconry, this exhibition features art and artifacts from ancient China that explore the mythos of falcons. The exhibit runs through July 17 and is free to the public.

You can get updates, resources, and schedules at their official website. The festival has also produced a festival guide for kids with photo opportunities and interactive exhibits.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival was created in 1967 and honors contemporary living cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them.

Produced annually by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Park Service, the festival has featured participants from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.