Nearly five decades of culture on the National Mall

This year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall celebrates Basque culture. Photo by Eli Siegman.

This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall celebrates Basque culture. Photo by Eli Siegman.

Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday to celebrate and learn more about the Basque region of France and Spain during the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall.

Valerie Emerson, 58, visited the market place during Wednesday’s Opening Ceremonies at the Arts and Industries Building to buy products made in that region.

Emerson, who said she comes every year, is devoted to the Smithsonian and the event, which has been an annual tradition since 1967.

“The Folklife Festival is a good way to educate the public about other cultures,” Emerson said.

Outside the Arts and Industries Building, food vendors and dance stages were set up along the National Mall.

Visitors and staff expressed excitement about this year’s festival, which runs through July 4 then begins again July 7 and ends July 10.

Deb Ramsey-Moor, 32, one of the staffers at the market place, has been going to the festival for 22 years and now works there. Moor listed some of the past countries that have been celebrated including Peru, China, Kenya, Scotland, Wales and Bhutan.

“We can learn a great deal from each other,” Ramsey-Moor said.

At Wednesday morning’s opening ceremony, Basque music played, dancers warmed up and people dressed in festive local attire took photographs with strangers and visitors.

Monica Firestone, 30, came to the festival because she studied abroad in college in Spain. Firestone knew a little about Basque, but saw this as an opportunity to learn even more.

“The Folklife Festival is a great tradition in D.C. and the Smithsonian,” Firestone said.