CultureFest celebrates Springfield’s diversity

In 1984, Newsweek magazine touted Springfield as the “All-American City.”

And while that was a grand accolade, there is a cultural diversity within Clark County that residents decided deserved even more celebration, so CultureFest was born almost two decades ago.

CultureFest 2012 is tomorrow from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on the City Hall Plaza. Led by Nancy Flinchbaugh and Cheryl Dover from the city’s Community Development Department, the festival grew out of a community consensus.

“Selena Singletary, a former director, decided to start the festival because at the time we were holding study circles about race and one of the outcomes was that participants thought there should be an event to celebrate the community’s diversity,” Flinchbaugh said. CultureFest is in its 16th year; Rita Jones and Clara Copeland are co-chairs this year.

Flinchbaugh has been there since the beginning, so she has a strong sense of what works. What happens at the event has remained constant in some regards, she said, but there is always a focus on keeping things fresh and bringing new community partners the festival. A few years ago, the organizers talked about what to do to make the festival better and they decided a community children’s choir was a good place to start.

“Now, we have a countywide children’s choir that sings songs from various cultures which opens the festival. The children practice at their schools, then they all come together here. Each year, a director from one of the schools is asked to lead the group,” Flinchbaugh said.

It has also become a tradition for the Springfield High School marching band to perform after the choir as part of the opening ceremony.

New this year are tours of the historic Bushnell building, led by owner Jim Lagos. The staff from the Heritage Center will bring living history characters to the event, sharing stories of Ohio history and heritage. Students from Wittenberg University will read a multitude of Cinderella stories from around the world. Not in Our Town, the local branch of a national organization that promotes community cooperation to stop hate, will have a presence at the festival this year.

CultureFest is truly a community event and Flinchbaugh said it wouldn’t be possible without the many collaborations that happen each year. Chris Moore, executive director if the Springfield Arts Council continues to coordinate the entertainment. This year, musical and dance acts will perform on three stages: the main stage, the CultureDance tent and the CultureJam stage.

Perhaps the most unusual performer is Joy Unspeakable, a mime who sometimes goes unnoticed until he acts out, taking visitors by surprise.

“I love Joy Unspeakable, and how he just stands there, then he’ll move and really excite everyone,” Dover said.

There is a musical performance for everyone, Flinchbaugh said, including reggae, a Mariachi band, accordion players, gospel singers and the Muleskinners Bluegrass Band, a well-known Ohio group that also performed at this year’s Summer Arts Festival.

A Chinese acrobat, and dancers including hula, belly dancing and Indian dancing, will perform throughout the day. Chinese acrobat Li Liu spent part of the week visiting the Springfield City Schools as part of the Arts in the Classroom program before her appearance at CultureFest.

“People really love the dancers. The Indian dancers are local; they are from our Sikh community and will also host a booth. Their goal is to educate and help people learn about their culture,” Flinchbaugh said.

Dover and Flinchbaugh offer visitors an important piece of advice – bring your appetite, and your fearless food attitude, to CultureFest. There will be Indian food, grilled pork chops, funnel cakes, Hungarian cabbage rolls, Philly cheesesteaks, ribs and soul food and Italian ices. Los Mariachis is the Mexican food vendor and the Greek Orthodox Church, which hosted its own festival for many years, will have Gyros, Greek salads and an array of honey-laced and powdered sugared desserts. “There are no new vendors this year, but there are many old favorites,” Dover said.

A number of community organizations will be represented, all of which work to bring about positive changes to the greater Clark County community.

“All of our booths are filled and we have representatives from all sorts of organizations,” Dover said.

Police, sheriff and fire departments will have a presence as will both political parties. Community organizations of all ilks will be at the festival so attendees can make contact with various groups to volunteer or gather information.

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