WASHINGTON, June 22, 2011 - Who couldn’t use a bit more culture in their lives — especially when it’s as exotic and diverse as Colombia’s? But no need to book a ticket to South America just yet; this summer, Colombia is coming to you — specifically, to the National Mall for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Starting on June 30 and running for two weeks (with a break around July 4), this free program highlights Colombia’s rich heritage, its geographic variety (the Andes mountains, Amazon rainforest, and Caribbean and Pacific coasts are all here), and its impressive bio-diversity (with the most bird species in the world).
A delegation of 120 Colombian artists and performers will be on hand to present dance, music, food, storytelling, craft-making and agricultural practices from regions as varied as the Andean Savannah, the coffee triangle, and the cities of Cali, Bogota, and Medellin. Among traditional craftspeople — the basket weavers and jewelry makers — look for the silletero, or flower artist.
Watch as he transforms a plain wood box into a towering floral display, painstakingly layering varying blossoms to create a splendid arrangement. Pretty cool, yes, but there’s more. The silletero (which literally means “chair man”) then hoists the colorful creation onto his back (it can weigh as much as 150 pounds) and carries it. During the festival, the visiting silletero, Alexander Nieto, will be creating a silleta (flower arrangement) every day.
Nieto represents one of Colombia’s most important traditions, La Feria de las Flores (Flower Fair), which includes an annual procession starting from the small mountain village of Santa Elena and heading down a steep, curving road into Medellin. The fair takes place each summer (this year, it’s July 29 to August 8) and also features a horse fair, a classic car parade, musical and cultural performances, a chiva carnival (a chiva is the typical open-sided bus built on a truck chassis), and more.
Lest you think everything in the festival is rooted in the past, there are also peeks at contemporary Colombia, in the form of graffiti artists and young urban musicians.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival will take place June 30-July 4 and July 7-11 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Smithsonian museums. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with special events taking place most evenings.
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