- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

The technical director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival resigned on the eve of yesterday's opening celebration, frustrated that a crew brought from India to help set up the festival and promote unity was not doing its share of the work.
Rob Schneider, who had been with the Smithsonian for three years, quit Tuesday night after an argument with members of the 25-member Indian crew. American crew members and others involved with the festival said Mr. Schneider was upset because the Indian crew did not do what was expected, and the roughly two dozen American crew members had to work up to 16 hours a day to pick up the slack.
American crew members nearly went on strike after Mr. Schneider's resignation, festival sources said, but settled for signs of protest because they didn't want to disappoint festival visitors.
"It was the last straw," said Colin O'Brien, a crew member from Minnesota. "The program from the Indian side was poorly designed and poorly implemented. Instead of helping us, [Indian designer Rajeev Sethi] ended up being an obstacle."
Mr. Schneider declined to comment except to say that the American workers were "the best crew I have ever worked with."
But an official close to the situation said Mr. Schneider complained about his American crew being treated like "servants" by the "guests," and also was upset because one worker had not been paid in six weeks.
Mr. Sethi could not be reached for comment.
The Smithsonian paid more than $1 million to bring Indian artists and craftsmen to help assemble the structures for the 36th annual Folklife Festival, which is intended to educate, entertain and celebrate culture.
The theme of this year's festival is "The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust."
Construction began in early May to erect structures such as a replica of Istanbul's Hagia Sofia or an Italian piazza, and tents and temples representing cities on the Silk Road, a historical trade route that connected Europe and Asia. The project is expected to cost $6 million.
Richard Kurin, director of the Center for Folklife, Culture and Heritage at the Smithsonian, said he hoped Mr. Schneider would return to his post.
"I have not accepted his resignation," he said. "He did a [very good] job putting this festival together. He worked 18-hour days in the heat and under tremendous pressure. I hope to get him back."
Mr. Kurin acknowledged there were tensions between the American and Indian crews and called the project "extremely complicated." He said that logistical problems were inevitable for an exhibit of this scale, which involves 25 countries.
But with the festival under way, he said, more people are going to be proud of their accomplishment than upset over the difficulties.
"I am sure that looking back, everyone will say, 'Holy cow we did that," he said. "Pain has no memory."
Vijay Kate, an architect from India, said the deadlines, bureaucracy and cultural differences were the cause of the problems.
"There were visa and shipment delays," he said. "The Indians were disorganized and work carefully, not necessarily efficiently. For us, it is more about sensuality then sensibility."
Construction was expected to be completed by Tuesday night, but crews worked into the night, picking up trash and moving structures to be ready for yesterday's opening.
They weren't.
Crew members pointed to structures and said that they were hastily erected and poorly constructed, that a lack of communication and plans contributed to severe delays.
"It's stuff that no one would know about but us," said Kendra Denny, 25, of Massachusetts. "Certainly, no one who visits would know that pieces are missing. It happens at festivals, but not this badly."
Most American workers said they enjoyed working with the Indian crews.
They also said after working as hard as they did, the troubles over the project were a "letdown."
But yesterday, thousands of festival-goers perused demonstrations of carpet weaving, sat in tents listing to Sufi ritual music, watched Mongolian wrestling or took in the sites of the Silk Road such as the Xian Tower in China. No one had any complaints.
"I am enjoying it so much," said Ann, a woman from Santa Fe, N.M., who was visiting her daughter and who declined to giver her last name. "It is my good fortune that this is here now."

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