In April of 2019, my coworker Jake and I hosted an EVPL booth at the Festival of Nations. The library had never put up a booth there, so we really didn’t know what to expect…and, oh my goodness, were we surprised!
For those of you that are not familiar with the Festival of Nations (FON), it is an annual celebration showcasing the cultural diversity in our community that brings together families, community leaders, organizations, and businesses who are interested in networking and fostering collaborative relationships in support of Evansville’s growing international population.
That year, FON was held at Bosse High School’s gym, and despite that very rainy afternoon, the place was packed and bubbling with energy! Jake and I would take turns walking around watching the various performers and visiting the other booths. We couldn’t wait to get back and tell each other about the latest booth we had discovered. Needless to say, we were both impressed by the quality of the festival, the students’ and parents’ engagement, the cultural diversity, local business participation, and the amazing turnout.
After that, we were eager to participate the following year and make FON our community partner. The festival was growing and getting ready to move to its 2020 location at the Old National Events Plaza. But then the pandemic struck, and all those plans were sadly canceled. Or should I say, reimagined!
I spoke recently with two of the co-hosts of FON, Janelle Nisly, founder and co-host of the festival, and Niti Moore, coordinator and co-host.
We spoke about FON’s beginnings, achievements, and where the festival is headed.
Seven years ago, teachers from the International Newcomers Academy (INA) decided to stage a public festival for their English as a Second Language (ESL) students in order to give them an opportunity to share their rich cultures with the Evansville community. Through hard work, and on a shoestring budget, they pulled off a small but successful event in the Bosse High cafeteria with approximately 100 attendees. The following year they won a grant from the Public Education Foundation to further develop this event.
In 2015, the Bosse World Language department joined the team, including their Spanish and French language students in the festival. Furthermore, Ms. Moore, sponsor of the International Club, saw this as a great opportunity for the club to develop awareness and relationships with other international students. With increased student participation and a larger leadership team, they were able to add even more community booths from restaurants and businesses, as well as bring in a greater variety of dance and music performances.
In 2016 they were granted a renewal of the grant and were able to include the Stockwell Elementary School Annual International Day in their proposal. Together they built a collection of artifacts and costumes that could be showcased in their events, and students from both Bosse and Harrison High assisted elementary teachers in a variety of ways.
In 2018, due to increasing participation from students and the community, the festival was moved to the Bosse High Gym, a much larger venue. Space was maximized with 70 booths, including country booths created by students sharing food and displays with cultural objects, as well as local restaurant booths providing samples. In 2019, the festival grew even more with booth participation from EVPL, corporate businesses (including Alcoa, AstraZeneca, Berry Plastics, Evansville-Vanderburgh County Human Relations Commission, Lefler Auto, Toyota), universities (USI, UE, and VU), and a handful of other community organizations who shared information and demonstrations with the attendees. Dance groups and singers filled the evening with amazing performances. Well over 1000 people enjoyed this international celebration with food, dance, music, games, and conversations.
After the success of the 2019 festival, it was clear the event was outgrowing its home at Bosse High. Old National Events Plaza offered to hold the event in their facility and be the title sponsor for 2020.
But the pandemic changed all plans. The Festival of Nations as we knew it had to be rethought and a different approach to celebrating the diversity of our community was developed. Its determined organizers worked on creating a video project which they anticipate will keep the vision of the festival alive. Furthermore, they will provide a curriculum piece for lower grades so that teachers may maximize the opportunity for classroom instruction. These resources are also available to homeschoolers.
FON organizers are promoting the week they would have usually held the festival, April 12-16, as International Week in EVSC. You can learn more and find the resources mentioned above on their website. You can also stay up to date with FON through their Facebook page.
I encourage everyone to join the Festival of Nations in celebrating the enriching cultural diversity in our beautiful city.
With 8 locations throughout Vanderburgh County, EVPL is ready to discover, explore, and connect WITH you! We encourage you to uncover new things, revisit old favorites, and to engage with us along the way.
200 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
Evansville, Indiana 47713