Weekly Columns

I’m always grateful to meet with folks from across Arkansas visiting our nation’s capital advocating for policies and legislation before the Senate or touring the U.S. Capitol and other iconic buildings and monuments honoring the men and women who helped shape America. My staff and I aim to make Arkansans feel welcome in Washington, D.C., which recently felt a lot more like home. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival highlighted the tastes, sounds and people from the Ozarks on America’s front yard – the National Mall. 

Established in 1967, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates cultural traditions at its annual two-week festival and invites others to share in these customs. The theme this year, The Ozarks: Faces and Facets of a Region, showcased some of the rich history, heritage and experiences of this geographic and culture-rich corner of the country that includes parts of Arkansas.

We can be proud of the people who represented our state through this program and shared their passion for the cultural practices passed down over generations with countless visitors from around the world. 

This was a great opportunity to teach about the unique fabric of the region and the people who call it home. Participants included musicians, mountain bikers, brewers, distillers, a Hmong herbalist and Marshallese crafters.

The Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese presented demonstrations of canoe building and handicraft weaving. This involvement sparked an interest from visitors to learn more about the Marshallese and, according to the Coalition, left their own younger participants with a sense of “hope and more appreciation of their elders and heritage.”

Sharing and exploring cultures is what the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is all about.

I visited the festival and met Arkansans who were happy to see the region celebrated. The commitment to their craft and the excitement they demonstrated were impressive and served as a great example of what the Ozarks has to offer.

The mobile visitor center for Experience Fayetteville, the city’s destination marketing organization, was situated in a prominent position between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument to promote the experiences available in the community. The giant crocheted strawberry fondly called the “Fayetteberry” was on proud display and certainly became a popular photo spot. 

A handmade, wooden track emphasized the opportunities for mountain biking in the Ozarks – a pastime that is drawing world-class athletes to compete on the local trails. We can be proud of the investments in bike trails that challenge elite riders while highlighting the landscape of the region.  

Rogers-based Ozark Beer Co. represented the area’s growing craft brewery industry with a special beverage brewed for this event that recognizes Fayetteville artist Olivia Trimble and Dr. Olivia Cadaval, curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. 

This festival is more than just a tradition, it’s a tool to grow our knowledge about other cultures, religions and communities. I am confident it sparked an increased interest in folks to learn more about the Ozarks and experience the hospitality of its residents in person.