Building Community using the multicultural festival format


Building Community using the multicultural festival format Rohini Dandavate

In the United States, Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May. For the Asian communities of Columbus, Ohio it is the time to organize the Asian festival. Introduced in the year 1995, this festival has emerged as a prominent community based art project, which contributes significantly towards building community networks within the various ethnic groups of Asian origin in and around Columbus. This project touches the social, cultural, political, and business life of the Central Ohio communities. Because of the tremendous success in drawing people every year the festival has received strong financial support from state, city, and corporations, since its very inception.

According to Ms Rebecca Ogden, who was one of the key figures in the administration of this project “this event was conceived with the simple objective of building connections within the Asian communities and with the mainstream community. “ (Ogden 2002). Dr Lou, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, at the Ohio State University was the main inspiration behind this project. Being involved in social services, he recognized that the Asian communities lacked a social infrastructure that could help getting/providing proper health services to the people of their community. With a view to address this need he set out to bring together professionals and other key persons from the Asian communities to address how health and social services could be easily made accessible to the needy people in the community. Through discussions/meetings with representatives of 13 Asian groups it was felt that organizing a festival to share the arts and traditions of Asia would help to: Build connections amidst the participating minority groups Build awareness and cultural understanding in the mainstream population and • Create a platform to share Asian art and culture

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(Ogden 2002) The members of the organizing committee envisioned that in the long run, this festival would help in building and sustaining connections and relationships, resulting in creation of community support networks. To make the event engaging for participation of the Asians in Columbus as well as mainstream communities, the committee decided to focus on presenting arts, art making activities for children, cultural displays, Asian food ways, educational displays, health awareness, and martial arts. It has come to be one of the most attended events in Ohio.

William Cleveland, Director of the Center for the Study of Art and Community in his article ‘Mapping the Field: Arts-Based Community Development ‘, defines an ABCD project as “Arts-centered activity that contributes to the sustained advancement of human dignity, health and/or productivity within a community, including, Activities that EDUCATE and INFORM us about ourselves and the world Activities that INSPIRE and MOBILIZE individuals or groups. Activities that NURTURE and HEAL people and/or communities Activities that BUILD and IMPROVE community capacity and/or infrastructure. (Cleveland 02)” The objectives, activities, and outcome of the Asian Festival meet the requirement of this definition making it to be an apt example of an Arts Based Community Development (ABCD) project. This festival encompasses activities that generate all the attributes that come under the purview of the above definition. The following paragraphs analyzes the impact of the festival.

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EDUCATE/INFORM: The Festival has increased the overall awareness about Asian culture, art forms, lifestyles and expression amongst the greater Columbus community. About 100,000 people attended the Asian Festival. The information booths, the art exhibits, dance and music performances, the shop with artifacts from various Asian cultures has aroused an interest in people to learn more about the Asian countries. The indicators of this growing curiosity is seen in the: Increasing numbers of ethnic restaurants in Columbus Ethnic aisles becoming a part of national grocery chains. Ethnic cultural immersion programs becoming regular features in elementary, middle and high schools. – – Opening of Henna parlors, an Indian body adornment technique Student community of Ohio State University organizing a similar Asian Festival every year According to Ms Ogden, presenting a variety of artistic events has helped people understand and appreciate universal themes in diverse expressions as well as recognize the unique characteristics of different cultures. It has helped people discover a new unifying eclectic experience that draws upon qualities of diverse forms, flavors and rhythms. (Ogden,2002). There is a growing interest in schools in smaller communities in the vicinity of Columbus to expose students to ethnic cultures through these arts activities. Performers and artists from the Asian communities have been invited to present their art more frequently than earlier. INSPIRE and MOBILIZE: The festival has inspired patrons, volunteers, artists and the audience. There is a continued enthusiasm for organizing, supporting and participating in the Asian festival each year. The Asian Festival has now become as much a part of the popular public events in Columbus as the Rib festival or the July 4th fireworks. People from all walks of life are attending

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the festival. It has mobilized around 30 corporations and city and state government arts agencies to provide regular financial support. NURTURE and HEAL: Health pavilions in the festival grounds have healthcare professionals demonstrate and offer workshops on traditional healing practices such as acupressure and meditation. Health promotions, nutrition education, Yoga demonstrations and health screenings are among the other activities presented in the health area. Consequently, health screening and demonstrations have now become a part of an outreach service to Asian and non-Asian communities as well as to elderly, women and people in need. Health information is available, many in Asian languages, in the area of community diseases, nutrition, cancer education, as well as information on available screenings. The original motivation for this community initiative is pursued through the voluntary efforts, which are initiated during the Asian Festival. BUILD and IMPROVE: The intercultural communication for planning and execution of the festival has resulted in continued interactions between the communities (as opposed to within the communities) beyond the festival. Asian Festival has motivated people of the community to invest their time and money into an activity that leads to developing long lasting bonds in the community. The phenomenon of globalization and the consequent change in the demographics of Ohio has resulted in the need for building cultural understanding. People are recognizing that understanding of multicultural practices and values can facilitate in their workplaces, malls, schools, colleges and neighborhoods. It is becoming important to learn to live in harmony with people of different nationalities and develop the ability to understand each other. Artistic expressions help in connecting people and it teaches people to accept and appreciate each other’s differences. In the words of Raj Isar (1996), author and Professor of Global Communications,


"One of the major challenges today is how to manage and promote diversity as a positive force, so that the recently released energies of ethnic identification and solidarity serve as catalysts for creativity rather than destruction, for concord rather than division (Isar quoted by Williams 1996)". The Asian festival has demonstrated that the benefits of art based community projects are not just limited to the evolution of a new mindset that is culturally adaptive. It also leads to development of cross-cultural networks that help people share skills, resources and knowledge. It leads to participation of the ethnic communities in the social, political and business networks of the mainstream. The following diagram illustrates how the Asian festival contributes in building connections within and outside the Asian communities.


This diagram displays the partnership and collaboration in all the stages of organizing this festival. It brings together people from Asian American communities of Columbus, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, and the Vietnam to name a few. According to Community Partnerships for Older Adults the “hallmarks of community-based collaboration are cooperative investment and allocation of resources; shared authority and benefits; and joint planning, risk taking, implementation, and evaluation”. It can be said that this collaboration has it all. There is local support and local control in planning and execution. The collaboration between multiple organizations and individuals under a unified structure brings a variety of perspectives and expertise into a comprehensive vision.


In conclusion it would be appropriate to say that in long run efforts of art based community development make life richer in cultural content and build social networks which become more stable because diverse populations have a sense of participation in the evolving infrastructures and power structure. References Cleveland W, (2002) Mapping the Field: Arts-Based Community Development (

Community Partnerships for Older Adults ( Ohio Arts Council, (2002) State of the Arts Report, ( Asian Festival (

Booth, K (1995) Culture Builds Communities Washington, D C Partners for Livable Communities Congdon G, Blandy D, Bolin P (2001) Histories of Community-Based Art Education, VA National Art Education Association Graeme Chalmers F. (1996) Celebrating Pluralism :Art Education and Cultural Diversity CA The J Paul Getty Trust.

Williams, J. (1996) Across the Street Around the World- A Hand Book for Cultural Exchange London, U.K. British American Arts Association Ltd.


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