Festival of Cultures slated for 24th year

SKOKIE — In 1991, there was much unrest in the world.

The Persian Gulf War raged on until a cease fire in April; Haitian troops seized the president in an uprising; and the United States indicted two Libyans in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland that took place a few years earlier.In Skokie, though, a new festival launched that drew people with various backgrounds together.

Since then, the Festival of Cultures, as it was called, has only grown richer and more inclusive; it has gained a notable reputation for being one of the most successful ethnic festivals in Illinois and has served as a blueprint for other community festivals. More than 400,000 visitors have attended, more than three dozen cultures have been represented at this annual two-day gathering at Oakton Park.

The 24th annual Festival of Cultures is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 17 and 18 at Oakton Park, 4701 Oakton St. Just under three dozen cultures will be represented from Armenia to the United States — and 30 in between.

Those other cultures include Assyrian, Azerbaijani, Bangladeshi, Belizean, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, German, Haitian, Hellenic (Greek), Indian, Indonesian, Iraqi, Irish, Israeli, Jamaican/West Indian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Luxembourgian, Mexican, Norwegian, Pakistani, Polish, Russian, Slovakian, Swedish, Thai, Tibetan and Turkish.

“Please join us for this free ‘Tour of the World,’ where you and your friends and family will enjoy two days of ethnic folk music and dance, a wide range of food, unique arts and crafts, international children’s games, Whole Foods International Beer Tasting, a merchandise bazaar, and dozens of cultural booths and displays,” the organizers summarize.

The free event was conceived as a reflection of Skokie’s tremendous ethnic diversity that has only grown greater in subsequent years. The village wanted a showcase for such diversity, an event that would signal pride and celebrate residents with diverse backgrounds coming together.

“People look forward to this because it’s a celebration of diversity that is really part of what Skokie is all about now,” said Michelle Tuft of the Skokie Park District.

Nearly 100 languages are spoken in Skokie, which has become one of the most diverse villages or cities in the state, The Festival of Cultures emerged from a Skokie ethnic diversity project called VOICES (Valuing Our Image Concerning Ethnicity in Skokie).

The project aimed to promote a better understanding between Skokie residents of different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

The first Festival of Cultures involved 14 cultures, fewer than half of the cultures represented today.

The Festival of Cultures has won state and national art event programming awards and is supported in part by the Illinois Arts Council, local public agencies, service groups and corporate sponsors.

The festival always includes an opening day parade involving representatives of each ethnic group. The main stage closest to the Oakton Park field house offers nonstop musical entertainment from all over the world while ethnic crafts and other items are sold at a marketplace under tents.

Major corporate sponsors for the Festival of Cultures include First Bank & Trust Skokie, ComEd, NorthShore University HealthSystem and Skokie Hospital; the Illinois Arts Council and Whole Foods Market.

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