Fact Sheets

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

January 1, 2018

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage promotes the understanding and sustainability of the world’s diverse cultures through research and educational activities. It is responsible for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections and other cultural heritage research, education and policy projects.

To support its various activities, the Center receives funds from federal appropriations, Smithsonian trust funds, grants from state and national governments and foundations, gifts and income from its annual Festival and Folkways product sales.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

  • The annual Folklife Festival, which began in 1967, highlights grassroots cultures across the nation and around the world through performances and demonstrations of living traditions.
  • The Festival, which occurs for two weeks every summer on the National Mall, attracts more than 1 million visitors. It has brought more than 23,000 musicians, artists, performers, craftspeople, workers, cooks and storytellers from more than 90 nations and the United States to the nation’s capital to demonstrate their skills, artistry, knowledge and wisdom.
  • Programs have featured U.S. cities and states (including Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Hawaii); countries (including Colombia, Mexico, Wales and Bhutan) and special themes (“Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt,” “Peace Corps: Fifty Years of Promoting World Peace and Friendship” and “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust”).
  • The Center has produced other events on the National Mall, including the National World War II Reunion for the opening of the World War II Memorial (2004) and the Native Nations Procession and First Americans Festival for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (2004). Other events produced by the Center include “Southern Crossroads” in Centennial Olympic Park for the Atlanta Olympics (1996) and numerous presidential inaugural festivals.

Smithsonian Folkways

  • Smithsonian Folkways is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution that aims to document community-based music and to preserve historical recordings of both music and the spoken word. It produces about 15 new recordings annually, some from the archives, and others from contemporary documentation and recording projects.
  • Smithsonian Folkways includes a number of historic labels formerly operated by independent collectors and record producers—among them Folkways Records, the life’s work of Moses Asch (acquired in 1987).
  • Included in the more than 2,000 Folkways Records titles still reproduced and distributed are the recordings of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson; civil rights movement songs and speeches; the poetry of Langston Hughes; historical Native American traditions; varied regional and immigrant songs; and music and spoken word traditions from across the globe.
  • Highlights include Harry Smith’s platinum record Anthology of American Folk Music that won two Grammy Awards in 1997, the five-CD set The Best of Broadside 1962-1988 that documents American protest music, Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology that traces the turning points of this 20th-century tale through its legendary innovators and notable styles and Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection that highlights the breadth of Guthrie’s artistic accomplishment.
  • Smithsonian Folkways has received more than 20 Grammy nominations and won seven awards. The label has also received a Latin Grammy award and 10 Folkways artists have received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. The label has won numerous other awards, including Parent’s Choice Gold Awards, Independent Music Awards and Crossroads Music Awards.

The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

  • The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections contain an extensive collection that documents American and world traditions in research notes, videos, CDs, audio tapes and still images. Particularly strong are collections of traditional music, occupational folklore, narrative, immigration and family folklore. American regional and ethnic cultures—Native American, African American and Latino culture—are well-represented.
  • In 2000, the Rinzler Archives was designated an American Treasure under the Save America’s Treasures program. The Center spearheaded a “Save Our Sounds” project with the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center to preserve thousands of endangered sound recordings stored on old wax cylinders, decaying wire, decomposing acetate and deteriorating audio tape. In 2010, the Save America’s Treasures supported the digitization and preservation efforts of the Moses and Frances Asch Collection (Folkways Records).

Cultural Heritage Research, Education and Policy

  • Books by staff include Mariachi Music in America: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (Daniel Sheehy), The Stone Carvers (Marjorie Hunt), Lacrosse Legends of the First Americans (Thomas Vennum) and Madcap May: Mistress of Myth, Men, and Hope (Richard Kurin).
  • The Center also develops and participates in conferences, documentary films, educational material and traveling exhibitions based upon its research work and productions for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
  • It actively collaborates with a variety of national and international agencies and organizations in the analysis and research-based formulation of cultural heritage policy. Its joint conference and ensuing publication with UNESCO—“Safeguarding Traditional Cultures: A Global Assessment”—contributed to the development of the 2003 International Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

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