Published December 13, 2022

At the Richmond Folk Festival this October, we invited visitors to tell us what sorts of performances and cultural expressions they would enjoy next year and beyond. 

We commissioned Sushmita Mazumdar, a storybook artist based in Northern Virginia, to design an activity—fit for a festival!—that asked people to share their suggestions for future programs. Her task: to create a survey that was visible, colorful, fun, and on-theme with Virginia Folklife’s mission to serve all Virginian cultural identities and traditions.   

Photo of artist Sushmita Mazumdar hanging up response cards to the activity at the festival.
Sushmita hangs up some responses to the We Are Part of a CommonWEALTH of Cultures installation of five wooden hinged panels. Photo by Pat Jarrett / Virginia Humanities.

The result? “We Are Part of a CommonWEALTH of Cultures!” allows visitors to think about tradition and culture through our five senses. Passersby picked a card and shared what they wanted to see/smell/touch/taste/hear at future festivals and Virginia Folklife programming. Festival-goers could also indicate on a map of Virginia where they came from, and whether or not they felt like their culture was represented. The Richmond Folk Festival had a record-breaking total attendance of roughly 230,000 across three days and we received 229 suggestions on Saturday and Sunday. 

“Our amazing volunteers and I spoke to festival guests, sat them down at our colorful and fun tables, and encouraged them to get specific: What do you mean when you say you want Middle Eastern food? Is Iraqi food okay? Or did you want something else? They specified Levanti!” reflected Sushmita. “When a child said her culture was represented, I also asked her mom—she looked like an immigrant like I am, and I know how my culture is different from my children’s. She said she would love to see Filipino food!”

“This kind of work takes time and we appreciated every moment guests spent responding and every story they shared.” 

Sushmita Mazumdar
Photo of a festival goer completing the CommonWealth of Cultures activity cards

Most striking was the sheer diversity in answers! One striking similarity were several independent requests for a celebration of Ukranian culture and music—indicating an eagerness to learn about and support the country still suffering from the ongoing war with Russia. There was also a common theme of seeking more Richmond-area artists represented at the festival. Other highlights included: 

Hear

Photo of completed activity cards hanging up at the festival
  • Wedding music! Specifically Bulgarian (Thrace) and Pakistani
  • Afro-Caribbean traditions, including those from Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago
  • Middle Eastern (Iraq, Iran) music 
  • Klezmer, Ashkenazi, Yiddish music
  • European traditional music and dance (Basque, Arctic Lapland Swedish, Serbian, Slovakian)
  • Specific musicians suggested include DakhaBrakha (Ukraine), Le Vent du Nord Quebecois (Canada), Percival Schuttenbach (Poland), Imilla Skate (Bolivia)

See

  • Dance styles from across the world, including Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ireland, China, Serbia, Slovakia
  • Regional Indian dances, including garba, Thiruvathira
  • Animals (ponies, horses, pigs, cows)
  • Performances beyond the stages, parade processions
  • Photo booth

Smell

  • Fresh pastries from South America, guava, mango, passion fruit
  • Smell of the briney seafood of the Chesapeake
  • Moroccan spice market
  • Incense and the memory of dhunuchi dance from Bengal (India)

Taste

  • Palestinian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian food, and flavors from the Levant
  • Tteokbokki, spicy Korean rice cakes
  • More specific South-Asian regional foods: Bengali, Pakistani, Nepali foods

Touch

  • More interactive exhibits that are adult and kid friendly
  • Offstage opportunity to see and touch examples of traditional dress
  • Tactile area for people to touch clay, costume fabrics, and more

Save the dates for the 2023 Richmond Folk Festival: October 13-15, 2023! The Virginia Folklife Area will likely have a regional focus on Bristol this coming year, as part of our work with Central Appalachia Living Traditions (a program of Mid Atlantic Arts). All festival organizers have received these audience suggestions and we are excited to integrate your ideas in the coming years! 

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