Circus News

Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC Spotlights Circus Arts

In recognition of the eighth annual World Circus Day, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has announced that its 50th anniversary in 2017 will include a program featuring the vibrant cultural and artistic expressions of the circus from diverse communities across the country. Circus Arts will take visitors behind the scenes to explore everything from traditions passed down through generations to many of the new expressions that reflect changing social and cultural mores that have always been a hallmark of circus life, work and artistry.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, honors contemporary living cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them. Produced annually by the Smithsonian’sCenter for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Park Service, the Festival has featured participants from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

This year’s circus arts program will feature intimate workshops, full-scale performances and an interactive circus school where visitors can meet and learn from master artists from across five major circus disciplines: acrobatics, aerials, clowning, equilibristics (e.g., tightrope walking) and object manipulation (e.g., juggling).

“The program brings to life not only the masterful work of the performers, but also the extraordinary effort of every member of the community whose work contributes to make the circus the dazzling multidisciplinary experience that it is.”

The Festival will be held Thursday, June 29, through Tuesday, July 4, and Thursday, July 6, through Sunday, July 9, on the National Mall between Seventh and 12th streets. Admission is free. Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, with evening performances beginning at 7 p.m.  The Festival is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.

“The Circus Artsprogram offers visitors an immersive, hands-on experience—one you cannot get by simply purchasing a ticket to a circus,” said Preston Scott, program curator. “The program brings to life not only the masterful work of the performers, but also the extraordinary effort of every member of the community whose work contributes to make the circus the dazzling multidisciplinary experience that it is.”

Featured participants include representatives from legendary circus families and many circus schools across the country, each bringing a unique perspective on the art form and the way in which it fosters a sense of belonging within disparate communities.

Performers in Circus Harmony’s pre-professional troupe, The St. Louise Arches, launch into the air. Photo by Jessica Hentoff

“This program highlights the artistic excellence, mutual trust and cooperation reflected in the life and work of these creative communities,” Scott said. “It confronts long-held stereotypes about the circus while underscoring the inclusive spirit with which performers and the people on whom they depend carry out their work.”

The Circus Arts program is made possible with the support of an ever growing list of influential circus organizations, including: the American Circus Educators Association, American Youth Circus Organization, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Circopedia, the Circus Arts Conservatory, Circus Bella, Circus Center (San Francisco), Circus Harmony, Circus Smirkus, Circus Juventas, Cirque des Voix, Fédération Mondiale du Cirque, Happenstance Theater Theatrical Circus, Imperial OPA Circus, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Circus Museum), Key Chorale, Listo Trapeze Volant, Medical Clown Project, New England Center for Circus Arts, Peru Amateur Circus, Sailor Circus, School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts, Wenatchee Youth Circus and Wise Fool New Mexico.

Main image:  A woodcut poster print from 1856 advertises the "Five Celebrated Clowns" of the Sands & Nathans Company Circus. Image by Morse, M'Kenney & Company, courtesy of the Library of Congress Print and Photographs Division.