Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to the National Mall with stories of land, sea and sky

After a two-year hiatus, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with programs designed to spark curiosity, understanding and delight. Visitors to the 2022 Smithsonian Folklife Festival can explore the cultural traditions of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism program through two weeks of workshops, demonstrations, performances, family activities and discussion sessions highlighting the importance of culture and community in creating a sustainable future. 

The festival, which starts today and runs through June 27 and June 30 to July 4, opens tonight with an evening concert. Tomorrow’s daytime programming will begin at 11 a.m. and run until 6 p.m. daily. Special evening events, including concerts and a film screening, begin shortly after the daytime programming concludes. For the first time, selected evening concerts and daily conversations will be live streamed. Always free and open to the public, the festival will be located on the National Mall between Seventh and 12th streets.

The festival is presented by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Park Service. It is supported by federally appropriated funds; Smithsonian trust funds; contributions from governments, businesses, foundations and individuals; in-kind assistance; and food, recording and craft sales, with additional support from the Timashev Family Foundation.

UAE: Living Landscape | Living Memory

Living Landscape | Living Memory focuses on the arts, poetry, cuisine and other cultural traditions of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a vibrant young nation with a deep history. Since the formal creation of a single nation in 1971, the UAE has transformed rapidly and profoundly, becoming a prosperous, urban nation where residents hailing from other parts of the world make up nearly 90% of the population. As the country moves into its next half-century, the era before its current prosperity is still in living memory. For many, the environment remains an important influence on the rhythms of life.

Living Landscape | Living Memory will highlight the skills, cultural practices and essential knowledge that arose from living in challenging landscapes that have served as a cultural crossroads for thousands of years. Through demonstrations and participatory sessions, visitors will learn about the region’s falconry tradition, maritime culture, musical instruments, classic and contemporary poetry, perfume, coffee and much more. Visitors can explore Emirati traditions, past and present, as 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,” said Folklife Festival Director Sabrina Lynn Motley. “In the UAE, it’s possible to encounter dynamic links between past, present and future in everything from green technologies to extraordinary poetry. As the festival has done since its inception, curators are creating a program that draws from diverse voices on the ground, challenging us to look beyond headlines, generalizations and stereotypes.”

UAE: Living Landscape | Living Memory sponsoring partners include the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth and the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. Additional support is provided by Etihad Airways.

Earth Optimism × Folklife: Inspiring Conservation Communities

The Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism initiative celebrates what is working in conservation. By changing the narrative from despair and gloom to optimism and possibility, the initiative shines a light on individuals and community efforts to address our most pressing challenges. 

“I am thrilled to collaborate with my Folklife Festival colleagues,” said Ruth Anna Stolk, Earth Optimism program co-founder. “Earth Optimism × Folklife is a unique opportunity to share stories and learn from conservation successes. When the focus is on solutions rather than problems, we empower people to replicate and scale up these activities in their own communities.”

Visitors 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. The program will inform, inspire, delight and, most importantly, leave visitors with hope for the planet.

Earth Optimism × Folklife sponsoring partners include the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Amtrak, Ford Motor Company, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and United Airlines. Additional support is provided by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

Marketplace and Concessions

This year’s Festival Marketplace takes its inspiration from an outdoor Arab souk and will highlight the creativity, cultural heritage and masterful skills of artisans and participants. With products from the UAE and diverse locales representing the Earth Optimism program, visitors will find unique clothing, jewelry, home goods, art, food and wine and more at a range of price points. A special pop-up shop from festival collaborator NOVICA will bring artisan-made products from the world’s largest impact retailer to the National Mall. Festival-branded merchandise and a selection of related Smithsonian Folkways recordings will also be available for purchase. Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the Festival Marketplace will be located at the Freer Plaza on the National Mall side of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art.

Food concessions, featuring UAE traditional flavors and dishes using sustainably sourced products and locally produced ingredients, will be available for purchase throughout the festival.


The festival strives to maintain an accessible and inclusive environment for visitors of all abilities. Accessible seating is available at all performance venues, and a limited number of wheelchairs are available for loan each day. Assistive listening devices are available, and American Sign Language interpretation, real-time captioning and audio description services will be offered for a wide range of events. Additional resources and supports will be available onsite, including Large-print and Braille materials and a festival sensory guide.   

The festival will host “Morning on the Mall” events Sunday, June 26, and Saturday, July 2, at 9:30 a.m. for individuals with autism, sensory sensitivities or other cognitive disabilities who may benefit from a more relaxed and supported environment. For more information and to register for the event, email

Updated information, resources and accessibility service schedules for the Folklife Festival are available. 

Complementary Exhibitions

“Falcons: The Art of the Hunt,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, features a selection of paintings and objects from ancient Egypt to China that offer a glimpse into the fascinating world of falcons. Swift, fierce and loyal, falcons have been celebrated for millennia. In ancient Egypt, they were closely associated with Horus, the god of the heavens. By the early eighth century in Syria, falcons were being trained to become skillful hunters at the royal courts. The art of falconry soon spread across the rest of the Islamic world, to the Byzantine empire in the West and to the East as far as China. It is still practiced in many societies today, especially in the Arab world. The exhibition runs through July 17 and is free to the public.

“World on the Move: 250,000 Years of Human Migration” aims to expand the public conversation about a timely yet timeless topic: migration and displacement. The traveling exhibition debuts June 18 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library—Central Library, Washington, D.C., the first stop on a tour of U.S. libraries through 2024, after which it will go on a broader international tour. Designed to allow local host institutions to incorporate locally meaningful stories, its highly transportable form makes it possible to consider pop-up venues in a variety of configurations. “World on the Move” is produced by the American Anthropological Association, the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the American Library Association.

Troy Petenbrink

Troy, also known as The Gay Traveler, is a well known travel and food writer. His has been a regular contributor to a variety of outlets including National Geographic, Travel Channel, DCRefined, CBS Local, and Metro Weekly. He also appears on local Washington news outlets as a travel expert.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.