Dream Realized: Peace Corps Community at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
By Erica Burman on Saturday, July 2nd, 2011
“Wouldn’t it be cool for Peace Corps to be part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in 2012, to mark the 50th anniversary?”
Eight years ago, sitting together at a staff retreat, brainstorming, we at the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) said just that. We were dreaming big. We believed that Peace Corps’ 50th
anniversary would be a milestone event warranting national attention. And through the years we took it as our job to steadily nudge relevant institutions to think about the 50th, and urge our community to reflect on how to mark this important occasion.
Which is why is was an especially sweet moment for NPCA staff to attend the Thursday opening ceremony of the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival and to see, for the first time, those dreams and plans made physical.
Between the dream and the reality was a great deal of work. In preparation for the National Peace Corps Association’s governing meetings in June 2007, NPCA President Kevin Quigley crafted a discussion paper on planning for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. The guiding principles that we laid out and advocated for going forward were:
Ownership. Peace Corps belongs to the world… not to the federal agency, not to the National Peace Corps Association and its network of groups, former staff or returned Volunteers. Rather, it belongs to anyone who understands the power of individuals to contribute to a better world.
- Participation. These events will be designed so that people everywhere where Peace Corps is valued can join the celebrations.
- Purpose. These events must be more than looking back. They need to advance the essential work of Peace Corps, promoting human development, peace and prosperity.
- Aspiration. These events will help realize the Peace Corps community’s long-held dream of having a national focal point to share our stories, meet and remember.
NPCA discussions with Peace Corps headquarters leadership resulted in the designation of a committee within Peace Corps to initiate planning for the 50th. The committee met with increasing frequency and on July 3, 2008, NPCA and Peace Corps staff members joined Smithsonian Folklife Festival staff to do a walk-through of that year’s festival, to envision what a Peace Corps exhibition might look like. In 2010, with the Peace Corps exhibition greenlighted, and
the anniversary date drawing near, NPCA took part in several joint brainstorming and planning sessions with Smithsonian curatorial staff.
And now it’s real. And it’s rather wonderful. For the next two weeks serving Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), and host country counterparts are sharing their projects, talents and stories on the National Mall, the nation’s “front lawn,” with over 1 million visitors. Of special interest to NPCA, there is a RPCVillage with dedicated message boards for every Peace Corps country. An adjacent RPCV tent, the Full Circle, provides a space for informal, spontaneous country of service reunions.
There’s a nearby tent for people to record oral histories. And finally there is an adjacent “wishing tree,” a place where people can leave words of peace or remembrances of Peace Corps Volunteers who are no longer with us.
NPCA staff members will be down on the Mall throughout the Festival. Look for us in our white NPCA t-shirts and say hello!
Come back to our website. We’ll be posting stories to and photos to this blog throughout the Festival. Click here to see photos from the opening day of the Peace Corps exhibit at the Folklife Festival.