The 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic

As is traditional, the day of the Smithsonian Staff Picnic was blindingly hot and stiflingly humid, but as is also traditional, that didn’t keep everyone from having a great time!

Romantic painting of picnickers and

“The Picnic,” Thomas Cole, 1845. Courtesy The Brooklyn Museum. Note: This is not the actual  Smithsonian Staff Picnic. In case you were confused.

The 17th annual Smithsonian Staff Picnic took place Monday, July 2, on the National Mall. Since 2001, the Smithsonian Community Committee has sponsored the free  picnic for SI staff, interns, fellows and volunteers during the annual Folklife Festival. Meal tickets were distributed to more than 7,800 people and despite the heat (always a feature of the picnic!) more than 6,000 are estimated to have attended. This year, the picnic featured two entertainment tents with performances by our talented colleagues and friends, a Foodways tent, a tent for narrative SI Stories, the popular Congress of Scholars tent, health and wellness demonstrations and a tent highlighting Smithsonian employee groups.

Here are just a few highlights—we’d love to feature some of yours. If you have photos you’d like to share, please send them to torch@si.edu and we’ll add them to the gallery!

SI Stories

The theme for the stories tent was “Transition.” Panel topics included “Digital transformation at the Smithsonian” and “The Smithsonian and its Hollywood Transformations.”

Panel discussion on Armenian stage

From left, moderator Jim Deutsch, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage; Becky Haberacker, Office of Communications and External Affairs; and Matt Noonan, Matt Noonan Films, discuss “The Smithsonian and its Hollywood Transformations” at the 2018 Staff Picnic. (Photo by Marilyn Scallan)


Panel on "Armenia" stage at the 2018 Staff Picnic

From left, Tony Cohn, Office of Communications and External Affairs; Darren Milligan, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access; Lanae Spruce, National Museum of African American History and Culture; and moderator Diane Zorich, Digitization Program (Office of the Chief Information Officer) at a panel discussion of “Digital Transformation at the Smithsonian.” (Photo by Marilyn Scallan)

Gift Presentation

During the picnic, Secretary Skorton was honored with a special presentation of a painted scroll. The scroll represents a collaboration between a team from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Patachitra (scroll painting) artists from Pingla, West Bengal, India.  During an in-person visit to West Bengal in February, as part of the U.S. State Department funded Communities Connecting Heritage program, the CFCH team told the story of the history and present-day use of the National Mall to the artists in words and images, and in subsequent months, the artists created the artwork and composed a song meant to be sung while unfurling the scroll, which is the tradition of this village of artists. This remarkable work of art was given to the Smithsonian by the head of our partnering organization in the exchange, Ananya Bhattacharya, and one of the artists involved in creating the scroll, Mamoni Chitrakar, on the occasion of their visit to Washington, DC.

Skorton accepting scroll

Dr. Skorton accepts a Patachitra painted scroll from Mamoni Chitrakar and Ananya Bhattacharya. (Photo courtesy Betty Belanus)

Scroll being unfurled on stage

Mamoni Chitrakar and Ananya Bhattacharya unfurl an Patachitra painted scroll depicting the National Mall during a ceremony at the Smithsonian Staff Picnic. (Photo courtesy Betty Belanus)


Congress of Scholars

The popular Congress of Scholars tent highlights current research across the Smithsonian. The full list of participants included:

    • Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage: Sustaining Minoritized Languages of Europe (SMiLE)
    • Museum Conservation Institute: Preserving Photo-Quilts from the Anacostia Community Museum
    • MCI: Discovery in the Details! Microscopy and Microanalysis at the Museum Conservation Institute
    • National Anthropological Archives: Research at the National Anthropological Archives: Melding Anthropology and Archival Practice
    • National Collections Program: Celebrating 25 Years of Collaboration – The National Collections Program
    • National Museum of African American History and Culture: DC’s Black Art Galleries: Prequel to a Renaissance
    • National Museum of the American Indian: Building a Traditional Voyaging Canoe
    • National Museum of Natural History Dept. of Invertebrate Biology: The Lives of Jellyfish
    • National Zoo: Primate Research at Smithsonian’s National Zoo
    • Office of the Chief Information Officer: Smithsonian Data Science Lab: Enabling Research on Diverse Digital Data
    • Office of Fellowships and Internships: Internships and Fellowships Program
      Scientific Diving Program
    • American Art Museum/Renwick Gallery: The Art and Science of Lighting Museums
    • Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute: Movement of Life
    • SCBI: Geospatial Conservation
    • SCBI: National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory (NEHL)
    • SCBI:Global Health Program
    • SCBI: Conservation Commons
    • SCBI: Candid Conversations
    • Smithsonian Environmental Research Center: Marine Debris as a Vector of Non-native Species Introductions
    • Smithsonian Libraries: File under ‘Ephemeral: Art & Artist Files of the Smithsonian Libraries
    • SIL: National Air and Space (NASM) Library’s Aerospace Legacy Materials (ALM) Collection
    • SIL: Managing Research Data at the Smithsonian Institution
    • Smithsonian Organization and Audience Research: SOAR: A Recent Projects Potpourri
    • Smithsonian Science Education Center: Engaging Youth in the Science of the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals

Illuminating Smithsonian Research tent

The Smithsonian Congress of Scholars hosted demonstrations and and research presentations from across the Institution at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.

Staff visiting various tents

The Smithsonian Congress of Scholars hosted demonstrations and and research presentations from across the Institution at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.

Staff at research table

This Smithsonian Libraries had two tables in the research tent highlighting collections and services. At a third table, staff from SIL and the Office of the Chief Information Officer shared their recommendations on research data management. (Photo by Mary Augusta Thomas)

OCIO presentation table

The Office of the Chief Information Officer presented “Smithsonian Data Science Lab: Enabling Research on Diverse Digital Data” with Rebecca Dikow, Miriam Tsuchiya, Chandra Earl and Katie Jensen.


Man examines materials at NCP table

The National Collections Program hosted “Celebrating 25 Years of Collaboration” in the Congress of Scholars Tent at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.


People visiting information tables

The Smithsonian Congress of Scholars hosted demonstrations and and research presentations from across the Institution at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.


Group gathers around information table

The Natural History Museum’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology presented “The Lives of Jellyfish” in the Congress of Scholars tent at the Smithsonian Staff Picnic.


Stritzinger talks to woman with her back to camera

Allaire Strizinger at the National Collections table in the Congress of Scholars tent.


Scientific Diving Program table with mannequin in dive gear

“Annie the Diver” looks on as Barrett Brooks discusses the Smithsonian’s Scientific Diving Program with Meredith Sharps, intern with the Museum Conservation Institute at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.


SI Affinity Groups

The tent for Smithsonian employee groups offered an opportunity to meet colleagues from several different community groups. Participants included:

  • Smithsonian African American Association (SAAA)
  • Smithsonian American Indian Employee Network (SAIEN)
  • Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Heritage Committee (APAHC)
  • SI Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Employee Group (SI GLOBE)
  • Latino Working Committee (LWC)
SI Employee Groups Tent

Staff had the opportunity to meet with members of the Smithsonian African American Association (SAAA), the Smithsonian American Indian employee Network (SAIEN), the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Heritage Committee (APAHC), the SI Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Employee Group (SI GLOBE) and the Latino Working Committee (LWC) at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.


Tent with LGBTQ banner

SI GLOBE was among the Smithsonian employee groups represented at the 2018 Staff Picnic.



The Smithsonian Healthy and Active Program for Employees tent offered yoga, hula hooping and advice on meditation and bicycle commuting.

Participants hula hoop on Catalonia stage

From left, Tim Holloman (Office of Human Resources); Marty Arthur (Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Management); and Dania Palosky (Ombuds) invite staff to shake their groove thang with a hula hoop demonstration for SHAPE (Smithsonian Healthy and Active Program for Employees.) (Photo by Kim Lee)


Two women with hula hoops

Dania Polasky and Karen Carter prepare for a hula hoop-off at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic. (Photo by Kim Lee)


Food Fights

The fourth annual Smithsonian Staff Cook-off was inspired by Catalan sofregit, in honor of Catalonia being featured at this summer’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Contestants were asked to share a one-pot recipe that represented their culinary roots and tasted of home.

Cooking contestant and emcee reflected in overhead mirror

Emcee Cecilia Peterson describes Trenton Jung’s (Smithsonian Enterprises) technique as he prepares ma po tofu in the Food Fights tent at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.


Elmi at cooktop in Foodways tent

Chiari Elmi (Dept. of Mineral Sciences at the Museum of Natural History) prepares Italian minestrone for the Food Fight competition at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff picnic as Cecelia Peterson looks on. (Photo by Arianna Sikorski)


Plate of food seen from above

First Place: Habanero pepper sardines, inspired by North African and East African culinary traditions, by Omolola Oyegbola. (Photo by Arianna Sikorski)


bowl of soup seen from above

Second place: Italian summer minestrone soup by Chiari Elmi. (Photo by Arianna Sikorski)


Tofu dish photographed from above

Third place: Ma po tofu by Trenton Jung (Photo by Arianna Sikorski)


Three women smiling over winning plate of food

From left, judges Ashley Young (historian of the American Food History Project at the American History Museum); Crystal Rie (archivist for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage); and Noriko Sanefuji, (co-curator of “Sweet and Sour: The Americanization of the Chinese Restaurant”) with the winning dish: Omolola Oyegbola’s habanero pepper and sardine dish mixing North African and East African culinary traditions. (Photo by Arianna Sikorski)


Contestants applauding the winner

Omolola Oyegbola reacts to winning the Food Fights competition for her habanero pepper and sardines dish. (Photo by Arianna Sikorski)


Food fight contestants

From left, First place, Omolola Oyegbola (Smithsonian Libraries); Second place, Chiari Elmi (Natural History Museum); Third place Trenton Jung (Smithsonian Enterprises) (Photo by Arianna Sikorski)



Two musical stages featured performances by our talented Smithsonian colleagues and friends, as well as remarks and introductions by Smithsonian senior staff. The full roster of performers includes:

Artists in Residence: Making American Music

Dom Flemons, Grammy winner and founding member of the celebrated Carolina Chocolate Drops, is known as “The American Songster.”
Hannah Baker, Intern, NMAH, a senior in the American Roots Music program at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, plays guitar and fiddle.
Kelly Bosworth, Intern, NMAH, a graduate student in the Ethnomusicology program at Indiana University, plays guitar and is a singer-songwriter.
Rose Rodgers, Intern, NMAH, a senior at the University of California Santa Cruz, plays flute and sings.
Libby Weitnauer, Intern, NMAH, a graduate student in the Music Performance program at New York University, plays violin and sings.

Group prepares to perform on Catalonia stage

“Artists in Residence: Making American Music” featured Grammy-winner Dom Flemons (far right) and National Museum of American History Museum interns Hannah Baker, Kelly Bosworth, Rose Rodgers and Libby Weitnauer.

Caribbean Nights

Gary Peresta, bass/vocals, Environmental Engineer, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Chris Mohr, guitar and vocals
Rayon Walker, vocals

The roots of this group go back to 1993, when guitarist Chris Mohr met up with bassist Gary Peresta’s reggae group “Rice Dream,” a band founded at SERC. They’ve nurtured the dream over the years, appearing with different configurations under names from Code Dread to their latest venture, the acoustic Caribbean Nights. We provide a mellow, classic reggae experience featuring Jamaican Rayon Walker’s powerful vocals.

DWQ Jazz Band

Rex Little, trombone/percussion, Construction Control Representative, Smithsonian Facilities
Lawrence K. Blake, Conga
Deon “CleanCut” Clark, guitar
Lawrence “Bubbles” Dean, drums
Abraham Igho, piano
Clarence “Pookie” Jenkins, bass
Dave Walker, sax/flute
Harry Williams, trumpet

Dave Walker is the leader of the band. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he studied at Howard University. He is influenced by John Coltrane and Grover Washington. Rex Little is co-founder of the band and a Smithsonian employee. Abraham, the pianist, is a veteran Jazz musician whose understated playing has graced a number of venues. Clarence “Pookie” Jenkins is a veteran bass player born and raised in, Oakland, California who has performed internationally with jazz great David Murray. Lawrence “Bubbles” Dean is an educator of drum techniques to many drum students; an expert drummer himself, he has performed on stage and in studio with many jazz greats. Deon “CleanCut” Clark is a guitarist/producer from Washington D.C., and has been making his mark in and around the D.C. area playing guitar and bass in a variety of musical styles and settings. Harry Williams is a seasoned Washington area trumpeter who has performed in many venues around the DC metropolitan area.

Band on stage tuning up

Secretary Skorton (far right) performed on flute with the DWQ Jazz Band featuring Rex Little trombone/percussion (Smithsonian Facilities); Lawrence K. Blake, conga; Deon “CleanCut” Clark, guitar; Lawrence “Bubbles” Dean, drums; Abraham Igho, piano; Clarence “Pookie” Jenkins, bass; Dave Walker, sax/flute; and Harry Williams, trumpet.


Tami Huber, Research Technician, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Dan Nees
Gary Peresta, bass/vocals, Environmental Engineer, SERC

Homegrown brings you original American/Alt Country rock with a couple of familiar covers as well. Experience real-life stories through the soul-soothing, gospel-infused tunes. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself singing along!

James Zimmerman Band

James Zimmerman, vocals, Public Program Specialist, National Museum of American History
Nasar Abadey, drums
Michael Bowie, bass
Lee Edgecome, guitar
Ben Sands, sax
Wayne Wilentz, keyboard

James Keith Zimmerman, a native Washingtonian, is an exceptional interpreter of songs.  Immersed in the time-honored tradition of the great jazz vocalists, his voice is like that of a horn, and his performances presented in an original, authentic style.  He has received grants from the D.C. Commission on Arts to present the music of Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks, Oscar Brown, Jr. Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman, and Bill Henderson.

Marcia Baird Burris & Friends

Marcia Baird Burris, vocals, Public Affairs Specialist, Anacostia Community Museum
Wes “Suguh” Biles, upright bass/electric bass
David B. Cole, acoustic/electric guitar
William Knowles, piano/keyboard
Lenny Robinson, drums

Marcia Baird Burris began her career singing in public in 2001 at a karaoke bar in Libreville, Gabon.  Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Marcia sings mostly jazz and blues but also includes R&B and other contemporary music in her repertoire. She regularly performs at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society (DC’s coolest new jazz venue), El Golfo’s and Jo Jo Jazz Cafe and has performed in the Blues Alley jazz vocalist project. Marcia has sat in as guest singer at venues including Westminster Church Friday Jazz, Mr. Henry’s, and even at the Duc Des Lombards Paris Jazz club, plus she performs at private gigs. When Marcia is not singing, she maintains her day job as the public affairs specialist for the Anacostia Community Museum.

Muddy Creek

Nicole Campbell, guitar/vocals, Administration, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Chuck Gallegos, mandolin, Scientist Emeritus, SERC
Pat Neale, keyboard, Scientist, SERC
Geoffrey ‘Jess’ Parker, guitar/vocals, Ecologist, SERC
Gary Peresta, bass/vocals, Environmental Engineer, SERC
Fritz Riedel, guitar/vocals, Retired Scientist, SERC

We meet on Thursdays at lunchtime throughout the year.  Anyone with an interest in music is encouraged to drop in!  Our core activity has been mostly guitar-and-singing, but we love to be stretched in any old eclectic direction, and we’ve visited a range from bluegrass to show tunes to reggae and have included things like brass, harmonica, strings, bagpipes and accordion at times.

OnRaé Watkins

OnRaé Watkins, producer/vocals, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Ashton, drums
Nya, dancer
Cameron, dancer

OnRaé LaTeal is a top-rated radio producer and beat-maker who has produced content for national and international commercial broadcasting stations including Washington D.C.’s 96.3 WHUR-FM and Siirus XM Satellite Radio. Combining the sounds of hip-hop and soul, she leads the artist collective Aflocentric with the group’s debut track, “Infatuation,” currently being aired on stations around the world. OnRaé’s latest work, “Miss Mary Mack” from the Black Girls Handgames Project, can be found on all music streaming sites.

Red Castle Blues Band

Craig Blackwell, guitar/vocals, Associate General Counsel, Office of the General Counsel
Philip LoPiccolo, guitar/vocals, Congressional Liaison, Office of Government Relations
Brian Smedley, drums
Dave Warren, bass

The Red Castle Blues Band was formed specifically to participate in the 2011 Smithsonian Staff Picnic and has been gigging in the DC area ever since. The band is influenced by the classic rocks sounds of the 1960’s and 1970’s and plays originals and rock covers.

Red Castle Blues Band in performance

The Red Castle Blues Band performs at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic. From left, Philip LoPiccolo; guitar/vocals (Office of Government Relations); Craig Blackwell, guitar/harmonica/vocals (Office of the General Counsel); Dave Warren, bass; (not seen: Brian Smedley/drums). (Photo by Marilyn Scallan)

Thunder’s Empire

Gene Thunder Washington, vocal & congas, Office of Facilitied Management and Reliability
Tim Bias, keyboard
Anthony Bryant, drums
Danielle Byrd, vocal
Mike Mason, bass guitar
James Proctor, guitar
Roderick Sermon, vocal
Bishop Young, lead guitar

In 2009 Gene Washington had the honor of performing at President Obama’s first inauguration. He formed Thunder’s Empire band in 2010. For the last six years, this group has performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Thunder’s Empire has performed at a variety of events and locations such as: cabarets, weddings and parks in the D.C. metro area, including the former Channel Inn/Pier 7 restaurant. Thunder’s Empire is here to entertain you with its poetic sounds of old school love ballads and sultry funk.


Two guys in Caps and T-shirts

From left, Anthony Robinson, Facilities Services Manager at the National Museum of the American Indian and NMAI Services Worker Winston Barber, Jr. at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.

Women smile for the camera

Nancy Bechtol (director of the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability) and Julie Beals (Smithsonian Scholarly Press) enjoy the shade at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.

Carter hula hooping

Karen Carter (Office of Fellowships and Internships) demonstrates her hula hoop expertise. (Photo by Kim Lee)

Two men manning recylcling booth

The Smithsonian Community Committee has been a leader in the use of compostable and recycleable materials at the Smithsonian Staff Picnic.

Posted: 12 July 2018
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni is primarily responsible for "other duties as assigned" in the Office of Communications and External Affairs. She has been with the Smithsonian since 2006 and plans to be interred in the Smithson crypt.

2 Responses to The 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic
    • Maria Gregg
    • I didn’t really know there were so many things to do and to see at our staff picnic. The great pictures and articles here are very informative. Thank you!!