- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

This year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival a tribute to the countries and cultures of the ancient and fabled Silk Road will be the most ambitious and logistically difficult in the event's 36-year history, officials said at yesterday's press conference announcing details of the spectacle, to take place on the National Mall June 26 through 30 and July 3 through 7.

Normally a free public offering with multiple themes highlighting just a few disparate cultures and crafts, the festival instead this year will celebrate a total of 21 countries, from Japan to Italy, with a single theme and title: "The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust."

More than 370 artisans, cooks and storytellers will be present to display their skills under decorative pavilions. The pavilions will lead from a Venetian piazza near the festival's 14th Street entrance between Madison and Jefferson drives to a polo field near Seventh Street, where local teams will play in honor of the sport's beginnings in Central Asia.

Between will be such features as a Japanese inn, nomads' yurts, a Central Asian caravanserai and teahouse as well as a 20-foot-high replica of the prized Bamiyan Buddha wall destroyed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Performing artists will include Sufi dancers, Chinese mask dancers and instrumentalists playing all kinds of exotic tunes, many foreign to most Western European and American ears.

Participants will demonstrate the living arts of silk making and carpet weaving, among other attractions. Concession food will be similarly varied and faithful to the country of origin.

One-third of the presenters will be from the United States immigrants exhibiting their native traditions.

All symbolize what Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small said was a road traveled by "traders who carried life and culture from one area to the next." The festival's emphasis, however, will be on "connecting the Silk Road to the present," he noted. More than half the world's current population lives in Silk Road territory.

As envisioned, the cultural creation to be seen on the Mall will be "unprecedented," said Richard Kurin, director of the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

He added that 90 percent of the $6 million cost has been raised to date.

The amount is the largest ever spent on the project, which is being produced this year in partnership with the Silk Road Project Inc., a cross-cultural global initiative founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which is the festival's chief funder.

The words "Creating Trust" in the festival's subtitle have special significance after the events of September 11, festival officials pointed out, because many of the countries along the Asian and European trade route are connected in the public mind only with political and military conflict.

"The power of the Silk Road is its metaphorical meaning and how it connected people. … I think we are hoping aspects of the program will rub off," Mr. Kurin said.


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