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NH at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington DC
June 23 to July 4, 1999
2000 Celebrate New Hampshire, Hopkinton State Fairgrounds, NH
June 7 - 11, 2000

Overview | A Day at the Festival | Program Book | Image Gallery | Themes | Participants, Presenters & Staff

gazebo adorned with colonial bunting

The Home, Town Community
theme hub was a gazebo
adorned with colonial bunting.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an annual event sponsored by the Center for Folklife Studies and Cultural Heritage. It celebrates the living cultural traditions of the United States and other traditional cultures around the world.

The knowledge, skill, and wisdom of traditional musicians, crafts people, and occupational specialists are at the heart of the event. Tradition bearers actively demonstrate and perform in an educational setting that is sometimes referred to as a "museum exhibit without walls."

The Festival is based upon research conducted by folklorists and community scholars. The individuals featured at the Festival are community-based tradition bearers, many of whom have learned their skills through family or community "masters" over many years and even generations.

The annual two-week (10-day) festival is held late June through the July 4th weekend on the National Mall in Washington DC, which is located in the center of the Smithsonian Museum complex stretching between the US capitol building and the Washington monument. Over 1 million visitors come through the festival-representing people from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds, and parts of the world.

sculpture garden machine tool parts and equipment

The Ingenuity & Enterprise
theme area hub was a
sculpture garden of
machine tool parts and equipment.

New Hampshire's presentation at the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival – "Celebrating New Hampshire Stories"

In the summer of 1999, New Hampshire was one of three featured programs at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. New Hampshire was joined by two international programs, one representing the country of Romania and the other the country of South Africa. The dancers, musicians, craftspeople, and occupational specialists from all three countries shared ideas and an admiring public for two weeks.

The New Hampshire presentation was acclaimed as the largest state program in the 34-year history of the Festival. The festival is usually limited to 80-100 participants per program. However, over 140 performers, traditional craftsmen, and occupational specialists officially represented New Hampshire during the two-week event. Additionally, another 60-70 participants--band members, firemen and others--made special trips to Washington DC to help celebrate two days of special events: Old Home Day and a day to celebrate Franco-American Heritage in NH.

The program was titled "Celebrating New Hampshire Stories." and was made up of five theme areas that represent important perspectives on the living heritage of New Hampshire.

Because the New Hampshire program at the 1999 Folklife Festival was such a success, the festival was brought home to NH and restaged at the state fairgrounds in Hopkinton. Non-profit organizations and state agencies were invited to expand upon the festival themes. The result was the largest celebration of New Hampshire culture ever seen in the state.

A total of 35,000 people attended the five-day festival. The first three days that were set aside for school visits and during that time over 10,000 students grades K-12 came to see and participate in performances and demonstrations of the state's living cultural heritage.

temple town band

The Temple Town Band
marching down the National Mall
during Old Home Day at the festival.

How Did We Do It?

This large scale presentation would not have been possible without the generosity of private businesses, corporations, and individuals throughout the state. Many volunteers were needed to raise the funds and to help with the event in Washington. This outpouring of support and generosity was a testimony to the New Hampshire character and the long standing tradition of volunteerism.

Preparation for New Hampshire's program at the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival took over two years. The research phase involved the efforts of over two dozen folklorists and community researchers who over a 10-month period traveled around the state interviewing tradition bearers, making notes, and taking photographs. The materials produced from the research carried out for the festival program are now part of a working collection housed at the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. These materials will ultimately be archived at the Milne Special Collections & Archives at the University of New Hampshire.

An informative program book is published by the Smithsonian each year to reach a broader audience. Several wonderful articles written by New Hampshire authors discuss aspects of tradition in New Hampshire.

To commemorate the event, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts produced a compact disc of contra dance music called Choose Your Partners, which was released on Smithsonian Folkways.

Photo credit: Lynn Martin Graton

New Hampshire State Council on the Arts
19 Pillsbury Street - 1st Floor, Concord, NH 03301