Tuesday, September 14, 1999

South Africa stars at event

Middfest expects 100,000 visitors

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Norman Sampson of Middletown, a Middfest volunteer, works with a 17-foot frame for a giraffe that will be in the science exhibit.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        MIDDLETOWN — The more than 100,000 people drawn to the city during the annual Middfest International Celebration pump plenty of money into the local economy.

        But Middfest, which runs Oct. 1-3 and features South Africa this year, provides far more than a financial boost.

        “This event draws more attention, more people and creates more economic impact than any other Middletown event,” said Susan Davis, assistant city manager.

        While it's difficult to put a dollar figure on that impact, if each visitor spends just $10 at the celebration, that's $1 million, said Janine Mara, executive director of the Middletown Convention and Visitors Bureau. And that doesn't include hotel stays, restaurant meals, shopping and gas purchases, Ms. Mara said.

        But the real value can't be measured by an economic chart, officials say.

        “It's an asset to the city because it features Middletown in a positive, global way,” and provides educational and cultural experiences that are rare in cities the size of Middletown, Ms. Mara said. “You just can't put a price tag on the experiences.”

        It helps people discover Middletown, and they come back year after year, Ms. Davis said.

        “Middfest is very unique in celebrating different countries from around the world each year, and it brings people that have an interest in or an affiliation with that nation. ... It's a way of making the world much smaller,” Ms. Davis said.

        Judge Nathaniel R. Jones of U.S. District Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, will be honorary chairman of the 18th annual Middfest International. Judge Mark Wall of Middletown Municipal Court is again general chairman of the nonprofit event, which brings national and interna tional acclaim to the city.

        It takes a year of work and more than 1,000 volunteers from the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton areas to bring it together, “but it's worth every minute,” said Virginia Ritan, executive director.

        During the celebration of South Africa, Sheila Sisulu, South Africa's ambassador to the United States, and dozens of South Africans will be in Middletown.

        Middfest activities will be scattered throughout downtown, including the municipal building, City Centre Mall, the YMCA and the plaza.

        Visitors can get lost in the rhythm of ethnic dance and music, stroll around the plaza among South Africans in colorfultraditional garb, and stop to watch entertainers from around the globe, Ms. Ritan said.

        There will be the traditional yearly “living museum” of international culture, and comprehensive exhibits of the country's history — dealing with before and after apartheid, said Kathryn Wood, publicist.

        A Literature Center features renowned authors, including Sindiwe Magona, author of Mother to Mother. It explores how apartheid bred a violent mob that killed Amy Biehl in 1993 in a South African township. The Ndebele Beaders will be on hand, along with basket weavers and artists.

        There will be international entertainment on three stages, a children's park, and an International Food Court and World Bazaar Marketplace. Visitors are often amazed at the vast range of educational, entertainment and cultural offerings at the event.

        “People who came from Norway last year said they had never seen such a comprehensive approach to their arts, their culture, science, history, people, customs and traditions — even in their country,” Ms. Wood said. “They said their people could learn so much about Norway by coming to Middfest.”


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- South Africa stars at event