Twenty-two years ago I jumped into my first Ethnic Arts Festival at Luther. As it turned out, it was a big year for the festival, as the event was incorporated into the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, what was then an annual event that rotated among five Norwegian Lutheran colleges in the upper Midwest. When I say big, I mean that we had a big audience and we needed a big space, so we set up the whole shebang in the Regents Center main gym. There was a center stage with audience seating, surrounded by display tables hosted by our international students, representing their country with photos, artifacts, flags, posters and more. I remember being up on the catwalk with Dodi Bernatz, Steve Arneson and crew, hanging red gauzy fabric from end to end of the gym to create the marketplace feel. Finger foods were available at intervals around the room. It was a huge, noisy, colorful, energetic success, enjoyed by more than a thousand guests.
The Festival has had different iterations throughout the years; new venues and new students, new glitches, new solutions and new fun every year, but it basically includes three elements: food, country displays and lively entertainment. The Festival has been part of four Peace Prize Forums, and we have been honored by visits from Nobel laureates like Wangari Maathai, who wandered through the country fair, visiting with students.
To the best of our knowledge (we could use an historian here) the Ethnic Arts Festival began in the 1980s when Luther hosted a much smaller number of international students. There may have been an interruption or two, but it really became an annual event in the mid-1980s and has been going strong ever since. (Stop in the Diversity Center to take a peek at the festival history through posters). Students, faculty and staff, community members and families have returned year after year to visit with students about their home countries or perhaps somewhere they have studied abroad. Children enjoy getting their “passports” stamped, and everyone loves the food and evening’s entertainment. It’s a favorite event that folks say they hate to miss.
The Diversity Center encourages anyone to be involved who enjoys sharing their culture, artistic talents and enthusiasm. We want students to know that it’s not just for international students. The festival this year will be held on Saturday, March 3rd in the Center for the Arts, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm with the evening’s entertainment beginning at 7:00 pm in the Center for Faith and Life. The only cost is for the food available during the country fair and tickets will soon be on sale at the box office or at the event on March 3rd.
Students are making plans and beginning to practice performances. If you want to be involved, stop in the Diversity Center or contact Michelle Boike at [email protected].