On the Mall: Armenia and Catalonia

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Catalonia President Quim Torra congratulates an artisan at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Elisa Bayoumi.

The National Mall is hosting the 51st annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival through July 1 and from July 4 to 8. This year’s festival celebrates Armenian and Catalonian culture and heritage, inviting visitors to engage with the traditional arts and food right on the Mall. From the celebrations of music and dance to the workshops with proud Armenians and Catalonians anxious to share their world, the festival will give plenty of opportunities for Georgetown residents to take a step outside of the neighborhood.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is a dynamic exposition of living cultural heritage that has taken place on the National Mall since 1967. Exemplary in its representation of contemporary cultural traditions, the festival has brought more than 23,000 musicians, artists, performers, craftspeople, workers, cooks and storytellers to the Mall to exhibit their skills, rooted in community-based tradition. Divided into programs that typically feature a nation, state or theme, more than 90 nations have been represented.

One of the exhibitions, titled “Armenia: Creating Home,” focuses on sharing Armenian traditions of feasting and the arts to create a sense of home in Washington, D.C. Wrapped in the food and craft productions are stories and emotions of the small country, 5,000 miles away.

The exhibition moves from showcasing the baking of lavash, an Armenian flatbread, in the tonir, a traditional oven in the center of the home, to the transformation of raw materials into beautiful daily necessities at the nearby blacksmith, stone, clay and woodcarving tents. Visitors should be sure to check out the Armenian food, such as the cheesemaking workshop and, for those over 21, the Armenian wine and a representative archeological dig at the oldest winery in the world.

On the other side of the Mall, the exhibition “Catalonia: Tradition and Creativity from the Mediterranean” focuses on the public sphere of life, as Catalan culture thrives in public spaces and emphasizes living together and embracing difference.

Visitors can witness the spectacle of giant puppets and fire-breathing dragons and meet the artisans behind these displays, watch the famous Human Towers reach new heights and be mesmerized by the expertise involved in pottery and basket weaving. Catalonian President Quim Torra was recently spotted admiring the works on display at the festival.

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