You can tell Jackie Flanagan Pangelinan isn’t lying when she admits she loves almost every part of her job. There’s no spinning it this way or that way, she’s honest to god bubbling over with excitement talking about her work putting together the Smithsonian Folklife Festival‘s Marketplace. For the last three years she’s been in charge of making sure the intricate objects and ornaments you see coming together on the Mall are also available for purchase, and she’s crazy about it. From helping fill the marketplace, to teaching artisans who have never sold things outside of their own country how to price their goods, Jackie is all about every minute of it.
Even when we met up only a few short days before the festival, when tensions should have been running high during that last mad scramble, she was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. While people buzzed around us unwrapping product and putting together furniture, she looked serene. The marketplace is most certainly her element.
What do you look for when you’re meeting artisans?
So for me, each year is different. Curators of the program pull together who is going to be their storytellers or their tradition bearers on the mall. So they really tell me what artisans are coming. Those that resonate most with the visitor, that’s going to purchase a product, are those that are out there demonstrating their craft on the Mall. So that’s who we buy from first. We work with them to figure out how much they can produce, because you don’t want to go to an artisan who has a small workshop in the mountains, like last year in the mountains of Peru, and say, “Can we get a thousand ornaments?” That’s just not… it’s going to be too much and disrupt their normal work flow and the next year the orders that they rely on are not going to come through because they put this other big order in front of them. So it’s really working with them to see what they can produce and how much we can sell of it based on our own sales history. And then I wish we could buy just from of our participants, but that wouldn’t fill a store. So from there we pick up other products that are closely tied to the festival, but may not be represented on the Mall. For example, a lot of our artisans this year like our iron workers on the Mall, and they have some woodworkers, but we went and found some others. So Things like that.
Each country has their own strength and their own story to tell. So you’ve got Peru where there are a lot of artisans and a lot of people who work with their hands. So I am not a part of that story or research. I really come in after and I’m sort of told which artisans they’re working with and I get to go meet those people. In the case of the Basque country, their story is really gastronomic. It’s sports based. It’s dancing and music. It is artisan, but it’s not as artisan-heavy. They didn’t have a lot of people who were producing products, so I did go out this time and find a number of Basque artisans who are similar to the program, but those stories are not being told on the Mall. So we have some other points of view in the marketplace, but we also have the wine and we have the salt, so it’s a different kind of product. Next year is Cuba. So we’ll get to see how those stories are translated into a program and then we’ll start it over. For me it’s like I’m creating this 4,000 square foot pop-up every year.
What’s an average day like for you?
[laughs] Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, I’ve just been thinking about what I’m going to say. It really depends on the month. There’s research… I feel like a lot of it is told by the shoes I’m wearing. Which is this funny personal thing. As someone who likes to put together an outfit it’s fun to look at it that way. Like there are months where I’m in the office so I get to wear shoes that don’t need to go walking up a mountain. Not that I’m on the mountains all the time. I keep saying that. I haven’t been, but when you’re traveling you’re going to be walking all day. You want to be comfortable. So that’s a different pair of shoes. Then you’re in the warehouse and you’re helping the tech crew, who is building this furniture, I’ll do the drawings and then they’ll build it, so when I’m in the warehouse I’m wearing steel toed boots. So it’s this whole different thing.
What do these shoes tell us?
These shoes tell you that Brightest Young Things is coming and that my tennis shoes are behind the jewelry case. I wear these everyday in the office. I can show you my other shoes too if you want.
I would love to see them. How do you come up with the layout and design ideas for the marketplace?
For me I want to get a sense of how they present their products in their own country. I want to try and incorporate some of the ways the use display in our display. For example, we have Espadrilles from France, so we had our tech team design and make a little stand which is an exact replica of what I saw in France. So it’s represented here. Sometimes we kind of make it into our own style, like I want all of the woods to be light so that all the vibrant colors of the products rise to the top.
What is your favorite part about this job? What do you get excited about when you wake up in the morning?
That’s one of my favorite parts about this job. I’ve never done just one thing. Sometimes I really love working in Excel spreadsheets. Which is crazy. Sometimes I love the merchandising. Sometimes I want to understand the stories behind it. I want to design furniture. I’m a designer also so, I want to design things. In this job I get to do every single one of those. We write for the blog posts. We write product descriptions. There’s an element of so many different things and then there’s that connection with an artisan. Connection with different groups. This time it was about learning what the did and the massive skill they have. I learn something new every time. And then they’re coming here and I can’t wait to see them again. Then with Peru, there was a group who had never sold their products outside of their Amazon territory. They didn’t understand importing, which is not an easy thing to understand, but it was like… every individual thing needs to be in plastic wrap. What words have to be on the products to get them in the country. We would say, “How much does it cost?” and they would be like, “Oh well I found these seeds. Why would I need a price?” Training them to value their own time and worth and to put it into the cost of their products. So they came to D.C., having never left the Amazon, and saw their products on display and watched customers enjoy their products, try them on, tell the person next to them, “Try this!” And you can see their faces… it was so exciting for all of us. I was so excited to see them. There’s always a little bit of magic that happens each year and I don’t always know what it is, but I always look for it because it really defines the whole year.
Now my hope is that they have those skills and can do that with someone else. We want to keep that artisan training going.
What’s the most stressful part?
Deadlines. We have a festival that begins on June 29 and I want to make 27 different people happy by that date. My boss Sabrina for one. I find her constantly inspiring, evolving, learning something new. I love working for her. I love it. And yes, I want to make her happy. We work all day to make these ten days perfect. Our job is to produce this festival for ten days on the Mall and I want and strive for everyone of those days to be perfect because if one of those days isn’t, that’s 10% of my job that’s not right. So that’s sort of my driving force behind it. To make these ten days shine.
How did you get involved with the Smithsonian?
It’s a fun story. So for ten years I owned a store named Nana in Washington D.C. It was on U Street and in Mount Pleasant. I really enjoyed that chapter of my life… I also designed a clothing line that went in that store and as a result I have met many people in this city. They’ve shopped in the store. I styled their outfits. It’s awesome to still someone wearing the clothes on the street. One of my customers was the director of the Center’s wife.
When did it close?
2012. It was just time. I did it for years and I wanted to keep designing… and the retail situation wasn’t as great, and I was burnt out a little bit. I also had three children in that time frame so I promised my husband I would take a break.
So I was at an event with Michael Mason, the director of the Center, and he said, “I have this project. I know you’ve promised your husband you would take a break for six months, but will you help me find someone to do this festival?” I think he asked me three months before the festival opened. Thankfully Joe was standing next to me and he was like, “Go talk to them.” So three days later I was working on this project.
I felt really lucky, because when you have your own business for so long you can’t always define your next chapter. You’re not quite sure where you’re going to go. You’re not sure if you want to take those skills and do something else, but you want to change. I feel like I took design on a D.C. level. I was learning that small business design, local business ownership, and now I get to learn it again in this new chapter on a global level. So it’s constantly challenging me, which I love.
Did you have event experience before this?
I started to do pop-up shops with Nana… I closed the retail location, but I kept the e-commerce and the clothing line going until I started the festival, then I couldn’t maintain it. I still do pop-ups with designers I worked with in the store. I host one each season on 14th Street. So just deciding how to do these pop-ups. Everything from business ownership to event management, I just kind of learned. You figure it out or it doesn’t get done.
Did you ever see yourself doing this kind of job?
No! You know, I was one of those people who never really knew what I was going to do. I always liked a little bit of math. I always liked to draw. When I look back, now that I see my kids doing things, I sort of think, what is it that’s driving them? What is their passion? I don’t want to say, do this or do that. I want to help them find their passion. I did a lot of drawing of outfits as a little girl, and I had only really thought about them after I started the clothing line. Now I can see it and say, I wish I would have grabbed a hold of that and studied it a little more in depth as I was going along. It would have saved me from some of the trip ups. But I guess you learn in the trip ups too.
And you said you’re still a designer?
I still do some designing.
Do you find your personal design projects are influenced by the artisans you work with during the year?
I’m not making my own collection, but I still draw things, and it’s hard not to be inspired. I didn’t understand the depth of skill the weaving took until I watched these women weaving in Peru. I just didn’t understand it. You want to honor it by incorporating it in a ton of different ways and then that trickles over into personal designs, like, I need a dress with this weaving on the bottom. How could I not have done that before? I haven’t necessarily produced it yet because this is a full time gig, but it’s always floating around in my head.
If you could pick an area of the world for the next Folklife Festival, which would you choose?
I don’t know! Next year is the 50th year. They’ve covered a lot of amazing stories in the festival. So I fear that I will say something that has already been done and someone who has been a visitor will and supporter of the festival for 50 years will be like, “Uhh, hello?” But there are a lot of places I haven’t traveled too. I’ve only traveled twice for Smithsonian. There are so many places I want to go to. I know that Armenia is potentially out there… I’ve heard so many things about that. It’s be great. I would love to see all the crafts in Morocco. So those are two places that if I got to meld desire and job I would do it.
Which piece do you want to take home the most this year?
It would be wrong for me to answer that question… but I will tell you what I have in my home. I feel like I want all of these stories to be told on equal footing. I can’t wait for people to try the salt. It’s a cool story. It’s an easy gift to give. I think restaurants should discover this salt and start cooking with it because there are only so many specialty salts out there and this one has such a rich story to it. I want people to watch the salt maker making it on the Mall and say, “I want to use that in a salad,” or “I want to find an innovative way to show that in my home.” We have these stalactites from the salt mine that you can shave onto salads. There’s just so much there that’s really fun and really well priced. This is something everyone can bring home. Not everyone is going to walk in and get a $3000 basket, but they can get $15 of salt.