The Circus Arts Conservatory Big Top has risen on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Circus Arts is the theme of the 50th anniversary Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which runs June 29-July 5 and July 6-9. An estimated 1 million visitors will see “Circus Sarasota” emblazoned in big red letters across the white-and-red striped tent, which holds 1,500 people.
In 2015, Circus Sarasota co-founder, aerialist Dolly Jacobs, received the National Endowment for the Arts’ Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. At the festival, she’ll star in free nightly Circus Sarasota mini-performances along with other artists who’ve been showcased in Sarasota. To get a sense of what goes into producing a circus, visitors can also watch tech rehearsals.
In the separate front entrance tent, just east of 12th Street near the Smithsonian Metro station, circus luminaries like high-wire artist Tino Wallenda, ringmaster Joseph Bauer Jr. and members of the Cristiani and Nock families will give talks. (Nik Wallenda may make an appearance, too.)
A Circus Playground
A “circus playground” is set up on the long expanse of grass between the Smithsonian Castle and the Hirshhorn Museum, with 27 young members of Sailor Circus offering demonstrations and helping visitors try their hand at hula-hooping, juggling, plate spinning and more.
Sarasota’s Key Chorale is getting into the act, too, presenting its popular Cirque des Voix—an evening of circus acts set to music—the last two nights of the festival. Joining them will be the Riverview High Chorus.
A World of Impact
Talk about exposure for the Circus Arts Conservatory: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival live streams its programs online to an estimated 4 million viewers worldwide.
Circus Arts Conservatory is transforming the Arts and Industrial Building into a youth circus arts showcase, where organizations like Sailor Circus, Vermont’s Circus Smirkus and Circus Juventas from Minneapolis—founded by Sailor Circus alum Dan and Betty Butler—will perform. Youth circus academies have exploded in the last 25 years, now numbering more than 250 across the U.S. Since the conservatory took over Sailor Circus five years ago, its summer camp has grown from some 90 students to 711 last year.