UAE Cultural Traditions Explored at the 2022 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

June 3, 2022

Released by Smithsonian on June 2, 2022

After a two-year hiatus, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with a program exploring the cultural traditions of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Marking the 50th anniversary of its formation last year, the UAE is a future-facing nation steeped in history and intercultural engagement. The program “United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory” will include over 100 artisans, culture bearers, musicians and more. 

The festival will be presented on the National Mall from June 22 to 27 and June 30 to July 4. It opens with an evening concert June 22. Starting Thursday, June 23, daytime programming will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Special evening events, including concerts and a film screening, start shortly after the conclusion of the daytime programming. Admission to the festival is free and open to the public. The festival, which also features the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism program, is presented by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and in partnership with the National Park Service.

“United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory” will shine a light on cultural traditions that emerge from Emirati experiences of migration, intercultural exchange and survival in close connection with land, sea and sky. At the same time, the program is forward-looking, highlighting its contemporary diversity and visions for an inclusive, sustainable future. 

“Since the formation of a single nation in 1971, the UAE has transformed rapidly and profoundly,” said Rebecca Fenton, program co-curator. “Today it is urbanized and remarkably diverse, with the majority of its residents having other nationalities. Yet the time before its current prosperity is still in living memory. At the festival, we will explore how crafts and creative traditions can revitalize connections to deep-rooted local traditions and at the same time inspire new creative industries.”

Visitors to the festival will be able to engage in activities that reflect a diversity of cultural expressions found throughout the UAE. For example, visitors can participate in a workshop to create perfumes and incense, and at the same time learn the importance of aroma in Emirati culture. Master falconers will demonstrate this ancient skill while describing its important historical role and its role in sustainability today. Visitors can hear the traditional, plaintive songs of pearl divers. The flavors and techniques of Emirati home cooking will be demonstrated, emphasizing the connection between local ties and global influences. NOON, a Middle Eastern global fusion music group, brings together traditional and contemporary music by featuring the oud, an ancient stringed musical instrument.

“The Folklife Festival invites visitors to come to the National Mall to enter a majlis—an important convening space dedicated to community discussion and hospitality,” said Michele Bambling, UAE-based co-curator of the program. “We hope visitors will join us to explore UAE living traditions as resources for connecting communities and envisioning a shared sustainable future.” 

“It’s been two long years since people have come together on the National Mall for the Folklife Festival,” said Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the U.S. “The need for this type of connection is greater now than ever before. Situated at the crossroads of three continents, the UAE has always been a hub for social, cultural and intellectual diversity, and this heritage has shaped our values, rich traditions and outlook for a better future. We welcome this Smithsonian celebration and are delighted that visitors from the U.S. and around the world will have the opportunity to experience our Emirati culture and hospitality firsthand.”

UAE program partners include the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth and the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. Additional support is provided by Etihad Airways.

Complementary Programming

“Falcons: The Art of the Hunt,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, features a selection of paintings and objects from ancient Egypt to China that offer a glimpse into the fascinating world of falcons. Swift, fierce and loyal, falcons have been celebrated for millennia. In ancient Egypt, they were closely associated with Horus, the god of the heavens. By the early eighth century in Syria, falcons were being trained to become skillful hunters at the royal courts. The art of falconry soon spread across the rest of the Islamic world, to the Byzantine empire in the west and to the east as far as China. It is still practiced in many societies today, especially in the Arab world. The exhibition runs through July 17 and is free to the public.

Marketplace and Concessions

This year’s Festival Marketplace highlights the creativity, cultural heritage and masterful skills of artisans and participants. From exquisite artisan-made crafts from the UAE to locally sourced honey to a special pop-up shop from festival collaborator NOVICA stocked with artisan-made products, visitors will find unique clothing, jewelry, home goods, art and more at a range of price points. Festival-branded merchandise and a selection of related Smithsonian Folkways recordings will also be available for purchase. The design of the Festival Marketplace is inspired by the traditional Arabic souk. Open daily from 10:30 am to 6:30 p.m., the Festival Marketplace will be located at the Freer Plaza on the National Mall side of the National Museum of Asian Art.

Food concessions, featuring UAE traditional flavors and dishes using sustainably produced products and locally produced ingredients, will be available for purchase throughout the festival.


The festival strives to maintain an accessible and inclusive environment for visitors of all abilities. Accessible seating is available at all performance venues, and a limited number of wheelchairs are available for loan each day. Assistive listening devices are available, and American Sign Language interpretation, real-time captioning and audio description services will be offered for a wide range of events. Additional resources and supports will be available onsite, including Large-print and Braille materials and a festival sensory guide.   

The festival will host “Morning on the Mall” events Sunday, June 26, and Saturday, July 2, at 9:30 a.m. for individuals with autism, sensory sensitivities or other cognitive disabilities who may benefit from a more relaxed and supported environment. For more information and to register for the event, email

Updated information, resources and accessibility service schedules for the Folklife Festival are available.

About the Festival

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’s Center 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. Follow the festival on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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