Annual Festival of Nations event explores world food, dance and art

Festival of Nations enters its 85th year as the biggest celebration of world talents in Minneapolis.

by Joe Cristo

The International Institute of Minnesota is organizing the annual Festival of Nations event, which has served as a launching pad for community engagement and philanthropic causes for 85 years.

“The structure of the Festival of Nations is built on its partnerships with independent non-profit community ethnic associations and organizations,” said Justin Madel, event director and organizer. “Any revenue generated by participating non-profit ethnic groups goes directly back to supporting their non-profit ethnic organization.”

The Festival directly engages in the active support of non-profit organizations — aiming to showcase and present a wide variety of world cultures. It has gone from partnering with 33 ethnic groups in 1952 to nearly 100 in 2017.

“For many of the organizations who participate in the Festival, it’s the main source of revenue for them each year,” Madel said.

Each of the participating organizations determines how they want to represent their own cultural heritage at the festival. They manage their area’s volunteer recruitment, booth design and menu creation. In addition to the volunteers supporting their ethnic group, the Festival itself recruits over 400 volunteers each year.

While giving back to the community is an important element of the Festival, it also provides an opportunity to try food and cultural practices you may not encounter elsewhere.

“The community can learn so much in one day or in a weekend,” said Connie Shaver, the Festival’s marketing department organizer. “Think of how much money it would cost to visit all of the countries they can see in one location here.”

There will be two international groups visiting the Festival this year: the Taiwan National University of Arts and Khmer Legacy Museum Visiting Performers.

Artists visiting from Cambodia will participate in a number of Festival areas, including on the world stage and in the folk art demonstrations. In addition, the performers will present Chai Yum, which is a traditional parade featuring giant puppets and live music.

Madel said a dance group from the Taiwan National University of Arts will perform, and the University of Minnesota will present a combination of ethnic dances featuring American jazz.

“In today’s cultural and political climate it’s more crucial than ever that we encourage everyone to seek out ways to learn about other cultures and engage with those in our community who have diverse cultural stories to tell,” Madel said.

What: Festival of Nations
May 4 – 7
Where: St. Paul RiverCentre, 175 Kellogg Blvd. W, Saint Paul
How much: