Folklife Festival Celebrates 50 Years (photos)

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The Wallenda Family Troupe performs on the high-wire in front of the dome of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on July 1. (All Photos by Jeff Malet.)

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which takes place every summer on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This year’s program, which encompassed 10 days in the period from June 29 to July 9, was dedicated to the “Circus Arts.” A concurrent program explored migration to and within the United States. The centerpiece of the festival was a temporary big top with a seating capacity of 1,400, showing continuous performances by nearly two dozen circus groups from as far away as Sarasota, Florida, and Wenatchee, Washington.

Visitors were exposed to the rich circus experience with a look behind the scenes “to learn from generations of American circus families and contemporary visionaries who are keeping the circus arts alive and engaging.” Jugglers, clowns, acrobats and aerialists were ubiquitous. Missing were the animal acts which have been a circus staple in times past but which are now largely out of favor.

The circus industry was rocked when Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey folded its tent this May after a 146-year run, but anyone spending time on the Mall during the festival could see that the circus arts are alive and flourishing.

View Jeff Malet’s photos from the 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival by clicking on the photo icons.

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