Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Revived festival brings the ‘World' to Wheaton

County nonprofits to spotlight area's cultural diversity in Nov. 2 event reminiscent of discontinued ‘Heritage' celebration

E-mail this article \ Print this article

The World of Montgomery Festival, a reincarnation of past festivals celebrating the county's diversity, will debut in Wheaton this fall, taking advantage of the area's variety of cultures.

The event will be held Nov. 2 and will be similar to the countywide Ethnic Heritage Festival and International Festival, which were held in Wheaton and Silver Spring until 2002. Earlier this month, Wheaton was confirmed as the new site for the event and planning began.

Planners expect a mix of live music, ethnic food, arts and crafts, and an educational component to teach residents about different cultures in the county. The focal point for the event will be the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity, 11319 Elkin St. and the surrounding streets.

"It's to try to understand and share all of our cultures in our diverse community," said Natalie Cantor, director of the Mid-County Regional Services Center. "There's also an emphasis on understanding cultures that have been here for a number of years and the cultures that are newcomers to the community."

The regional center is partnering with the County Executive's Office of Community Partnerships, the Wheaton-based Latino Economic Development Corporation and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, a Silver Spring-based nonprofit.

When Bruce Adams became director of the Office of Community Partnerships in March 2007, he said he wanted to bring back the Ethnic Heritage Festival which was "wildly popular" when he was a County Councilman from 1986 to 1994. The event was discontinued due to redevelopment in Silver Spring.

Word got around that Adams was interested in the event and LEDC Executive Director Manuel Hidalgo and former Arts and Humanities Council CEO Theresa Cameron immediately supported the idea, Adams said.

"Back that long ago the changing face of Montgomery was a newer phenomenon so it was an eye-opening, exciting experience," Adams said of the Ethnic Heritage Festival. "One change I'd like to make is that while this still is a fun, festive event, there be more of a education component."

Despite it being held in November, live music and activities will be featured outdoors, said Jason Morris, Montgomery County traditions coordinator for the Arts and Humanities Council, who is still in the early stages of programming the event.

The plan is to enlist storytellers, historians, dancers and artists from a variety of cultures and possibly show films or multimedia presentations in the Gilchrist Center, Morris said.

"We are trying to give a context of how these activities fit with the contemporary cultural issues in the county," Morris said. "Rather than saying, ‘Here's a dance or painting,' we try to give educational emphasis."

Different county agencies and companies also will have the opportunity to set up information booths at the festival. The budget for the event is about $40,000, Adams said, and sponsors are still being sought.

Adams envisioned an "international village" where festival-goers could frequent a number of stations to learn about different cultures. Local ethnic restaurants will be able to set up booths, similar to those at the annual Taste of Wheaton event in May, except they will not be limited to serving only $1 items, Hidalgo said.

By November, LEDC's Montgomery County office will have moved from the Gilchrist Center to its own office at nearby 2405 Price Ave., Hidalgo said, and the new office will also host attractions for the festival.

Hidalgo is also actively seeking sponsors and participants for the event and mentioned possibly involving the Smithsonian to provide exhibits or cultural information.

"A big piece is to highlight Wheaton," Hidalgo said. "Even though it's countywide, we want to do it in Wheaton as the county's hub of richness and a variety of cultures."