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Folklife Festival kicks off; brings magic of China, Kenya to D.C.

Wednesday - 6/25/2014, 5:13pm  ET

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Dancers dressed in traditional Chinese garb perform a dragon dance during the official opening of the Folklife Festival on the National Mall Wednesday. (WTOP/John Aaron)

WASHINGTON - The National Mall will have an international flavor during the next two weeks.

The 48th Smithsonian Folklife Festival got underway Wednesday and the event will focus on cultures in China and Kenya this time around.

"The Folklife Festival brings the world to our nation's capital -- to its front porch, the National Mall," said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, during the festival's opening ceremony.

He says "food, dance, crafts, stories, song, language" will all be a part of the experience for visitors looking for a taste of another culture.

The opening festivities, in a tent on the National Mall called the "Moonrise Pavilion," began with a group of Chinese performers making its way through the crowd while doing a dragon dance. That was followed by performances by Chinese and Kenyan singing groups.

Next to the pavilion and part of the China display is a "flower plaque" that is more than 30 feet high and 110 feet wide, making it one of the largest structures in the festival's history.

"If you can't go to China, we are sort of bringing China, and Kenya, to you," says festival spokesperson Amy Kehs.

Men dressed in traditional Kenyan clothing wait to perform during the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall Wednesday. (WTOP/John Aaron)

The festival is designed to bring culture to life in a way museums cannot. At the surrounding Smithsonian buildings, "you can see a pot or see some embroidery, and read about it," Kehs says. "But here at the festival, you will be able to meet those people... that are making that pottery or doing that embroidery."

Kehs says there are activities for the whole family.

"In our Kenya program you can do a ‘fun run' with a marathon runner, and also learn some animal names in Swahili."

Leaders from the Smithsonian and the National Park Service also announced they have reached an agreement to keep the festival on the National Mall. Some festival supporters have worried new turf regulations on the mall would force the festival to relocate elsewhere.

A new agreement calls for the festival to be held on the National Mall between 7th and 14th streets for the next five years whenever possible.

Next year the festival will be held between 3rd and 7th streets on the mall during the second phase of a turf restoration project.

This year's festival runs until July 6. However no activities are scheduled on June 30 or July 1.

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