Renowned spiritual leader Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living Foundation bring this three-day celebration of unity, culture and music to the National Mall — and the States — for the first time.
Nestled in the greenery of Meridian Hill Park is a stately but unassuming building that serves as the D.C. outlet of the Art of Living Foundation. Founded by spiritual leader Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the organization has pioneered and shared breathwork, meditation and other mindfulness techniques throughout the world since its inception in 1981.
The Art of Living Foundation is also home to the World Culture Festival, a multi-day affair centered on celebrating the ways in which music, dance, culture and food unite people from all walks of life.
When District Fray visited the center to speak with Gurudev ahead of this year’s festival, the space was teeming with staff setting up for meditation courses, interns sharing ideas and even a parent and child there asking Gurudev himself for assistance in bringing these practices to schools — one of the foundation’s focuses.
Soon, the Art of Living Foundation will expand its footprint even further — to one of the most illustrious venues in the world, the National Mall — with its first stateside iteration of the World Culture Festival.
Previously held in Bangalore, New Delhi and Berlin, the festival lands on the Mall from September 29 to October 1 this year. Though past World Culture Festivals have attracted thousands of visitors, Gurudev and his team expect record numbers in D.C. this fall.
With more than 250,000 people already confirmed to attend per their website and counting, the Mall will see a bevy of performers, artists, musicians, food trucks and political dignitaries as in years before. As Gurudev explains during our sit-down, the choice to hold this event in D.C. was not simply just due to our proximity to its Northwest home or governmental heavyweights.
“Post-Covid, I felt that this is so much needed,” he says. “Especially when there is so much polarization that’s happening. Fear, uncertainty and violence in society that can only be countered by celebration and bringing people together. So that was one of the main reasons I said, ‘Let’s get everyone to sing and dance and dine together.’”
So far, the festival slated 17,000 artists to grace its stage throughout the weekend. Native American dancers, guitar ensembles, gospel singers and Indian classical performers are just some of the genres and heritages that will share their art form with attendees.
Local artists will have a chance to broadcast their craft with solo, acoustic performances throughout. Gurudev and the World Culture Festival want to aim the spotlight on up and comers, whom he notes struggle with their own unique set of mental health challenges in a demanding industry.
“Here, I want to give a platform for budding artists. [They] are really not in a good shape. Their depression rate is 17 times more than normal people who are not artists. So, this is a very big crisis that we can see in our society, that artists are more depressed than the others. In fact, they are supposed to take away the depression of other people.”
Gurudev himself will lead a morning meditation on Sunday, October 1 at 8 a.m. He encourages all to join regardless of experience to reap benefits that can be associated with the practice.
“Meditation and yoga calm you down — it uplifts your spirit and gives you energy,” he says. “It’s good for our body and physique, but also our mental fitness.”
A multitude of other activities will take place on the Mall, such as food trucks representing diverse cuisines, words from world leaders and dignitaries and events geared towards young global citizens and their well-being in an increasingly hectic world.
Should anyone feel inspired and called to continue yoga, breathwork, meditation and more, there are myriad ways to engage with the mission of the World Culture Festival and the larger Art of Living foundation after the weekend has wrapped.
“There are many training programs we offer, as many as 57 different courses online and offline. This is a center,” he says, motioning to the building in its entirety, “and people are most welcome to come and benefit.”
At the heart of all activities at the World Culture Festival, and by that token, the Art of Living Foundation, is arming individuals with ways to cope with the anxieties of our varying cultures, and to find moments of pause, celebration and appreciation for one another.
“Today, stress has been so prevalent in almost every section of society,” Gurudev says. “From kids to retired people, stress is a common thing. Meditation and music — both of these things can help people to relieve stress.”
The World Culture Festival on the National Mall takes place from Friday, September 29 to Sunday, October 1 and is free to attend. New events, attractions and details will be released closer to the festival. Sign up for a free pass by visiting wcf.artofliving.org. Follow along with updates before the festival and throughout at @artoflivingusa on Instagram. You can also follow Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar @srisriravishankar.
Want more insight on the best festivals to attend? Join the District Fray community for exclusive access to guides and recommendations. Become a member and support local journalism today.