Thursday, October 03, 2002

Middfest goes global to mark 20th

By Ellen Blevens
Enquirer contributor

        Every year, Middfest International in Middletown gives Tristaters the opportunity to experience the culture and traditions of a foreign country. This year, Middfest will provide a cultural experience like never before as it celebrates 20 years and 25 different countries.

   What: Middfest International
   When: 6-10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
   Where: Downtown Middletown. Exhibits and performances take place in the Manchester Inn, Middletown City Building, Donham Plaza, Youth Park, and Miami University Middletown's Dave Finkelman Auditorium. A map is available on the Middfest Web site.
   Admission: $5 (ticket good for all three days), free to children 12 and under.
   Information: (513) 425-7707 and

        Middfest is not like Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, the Midwest Black Family Reunion or other festivals. Its atmosphere, although festive, is one of learning and enlightenment. Organizers say it's a celebration of diversity with an emphasis on presenting information.

        “There are no carnival rides,” says steering committee co-chair Mary Lou Flynn. “This is learning and culture and world understanding.”

        “Middfest's main goal is education, and everything relates to culture,” marketing director Ann Mort says. “We find that people, and especially children, enjoy immersing themselves in a certain country's culture.”

        For the past 20 years, Middfest organizers estimate they have educated more than 2 million people with information about a country's traditions, habits, food, art, music and other aspects of everyday life.

        “Middfest started out as a way to showcase Middletown businesses with international ties, but now it has become more focused,” Ms. Mort says. “We choose countries with particular ethnic presence nearby or with business ties to the city of Middletown.”

        The weekend of events begins with an opening ceremony, which Ms. Flynn says is much like the Olympics. “The representatives from each country march in with their flag. It's a great way to open the celebration.”

        Then for three days event-goers can stroll the streets of Middletown in the vicinity of the City Center Plaza and immerse themselves in foreign culture.

        “We are going to have authors and playwrights reading from their works,” Ms. Flynn says. “On Saturday we will be having several activities for kids.

        “There will be history exhibits and conversations on economics.”

        One can begin the day at Middfest sampling Irish Guinness Cake, then move on to watch a performance by India's Tansuree Shankar Dance Company, one of 16 different international performing groups.

        “There are 300 foreign visitors, and we usually have about 30,” Ms. Mort says. “We have also added a performance series at Miami University Middletown.”

        According to Ms. Mort, the people who enjoy this entertainment the most are Americans with ties to one certain foreign country.

        “We have a large group that come to meet with people from their homeland,” she says. “It's important for these fellow countrymen who are living in the U.S.”

        But by far, the most important goal of Middfest is the cultural education.

        “It's a lot of diversity training for the community,” Ms. Mort says. “It's not the color of your skin, it's the culture and food and habits, which weaves a colorful tapestry.

        “You can't help but soak up some culture while you're here.”

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