Festival celebrates cultural awareness

Sara Norgon

More than 40 groups representing more than 50 cultures participated in the International Folk Fair Sunday in Davies Center.

Fay Bobb, program assistant for the Center for International Education, which sponsored the fair, said the event is the largest of its kind in this area and started 30 years ago.

Sophomore Kiri Cooney in the Native American Student Association display room said she thought it was a very large turn out.
“Everyone comes (to our room) for the fry bread,” she said.

Student and community groups and clubs as well as faculty members set up booths and displays throughout the building in order to teach visitors about individual cultures, she said.

Participants sold ethnic foods and crafts, played music, danced and provided educational activities for children, Bobb said.

“We try to make it an educational and cultural experience for the community,” she said.

Upon entering Davies Center, visitors received “passports,” which they carried to all the displays, Bobb said. The passport receives a stamp if the visitor learned something at the display, she said. A fully stamped passport allowed visitors to enter a prize drawing, courtesy of several local businesses, Bobb said.

The fair also featured Norwegian fiddler Sarah Nagell; the Northern Folk Spelmanslag, which played Scandinavian instruments; an African choir; the West African Music Society; Polish accordion music; Native American drummers and dancers; and the Bistra Voda international dancers, Bobb said.

Paul Hoff, professor of foreign language education and Spanish, said he grew up in the Eau Claire area and has participated in the International Folk Fair since he was 6 years old. He has also been in an advisory position for the fair for 16 years, he said.

Hoff said he thinks the combination of publicity and the fair’s strong reputation helped the fair grow so large.

“It has grown to be more and more of an event,” he said.

Hoff also said the activities for children are especially important because he thinks young people are particularly attracted to the event.

“A lot of kids are naturally curious about other cultures and languages,” he said.

International student Matej Skaro said he spent a few hours with other Balkan exchange students preparing for the fair. Skaro said he hoped to teach community members about the cultures in the Balkans and that he thought the fair was very important for the community to help foster a global perspective.

“(This is to) raise awareness of the world,” he said. “It’s important to realize that the world is not all the same.”