Whether you want to see instrumental folk music from Russia and Eastern Europe, traditional Mexican dances, Bharatanatyam Indian dance, or a performance promoting Chinese culture and traditions, the International Festival at Overture Center on Saturday, Feb. 25, will be the place to be.

International Festival is a free, family-friendly event that has been hosted by Overture Center for more than 30 years. It celebrates the rich cultural heritage within our community and throughout Dane County.

Back in the day, International Fest used to be called the Holiday Festival and it was much smaller event. In the early ’80s, the event started as a way to welcome the public into the then-new Civic Center.

“When we moved to Overture Center we really expanded the event including the number of performers because we had the space to do it,” says Karra Beach, coordinator of the festival and a community engagement coordinator for Overture Center. “It’s an incredible space to have an event like this. This building is very, very white so it’s a nice canvas for International Festival which is full of colors and smells and spices. It really brightens up and livens up this building.”

Tani Diakite
Tani Diakite

What can people expect at this year’s International Fest?

“We have over 30 performances representing at least 25 countries. We have a lot of variety this year,” Beach tells Madison365. “There is incredible diversity. A lot of things will be going on and you can come at any point in the day and see all sorts of wonderful things – it’s not like they have to be here at any certain time. You can come for an hour or come for a full day … there’s a lot of things to experience.”

The International Festival will feature international performances and local businesses with global connections will sell arts and crafts.

“International Festival embraces, supports and showcases cultural arts in our community without having to leave Madison,” said Ted DeDee, Overture’s president and CEO. “The Overture Center is home for the arts for everyone, and this free event really celebrates the diversity among us. We are proud to provide a stage for individuals and cultures from around the globe who now call Dane County home.”

The international cafe will feature foods from India, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Poland and more. In all, there will be nine different food vendors at the event.

“We always get great response from the community about International Fest,” Beach says. “I’ve had people tell me that they are so happy with the performers or that they came down to see one specific performer and it was great.

“And the performers are thrilled to come in and to be at these different spaces because these are venues that they wouldn’t be performing in otherwise,” Beach adds. “It’s a great experience for them and part of why we do this – to give them that positive experience at the event.”

Limanya Drum and Dance
Limanya Drum and Dance

International Festival is one of those unique events that brings the world to Madison.

“There are a lot of different cultures in Madison that have their own celebrations throughout the city, especially in the summer, but I think it’s really cool and unique to have all of these cultures here in one building for one day,” Beach says.

“It’s really eye-opening to show the diverse talent that we have on a local level,” adds Sarah Knab, communications manager for the Overture Center for the Arts. “All of the people and performers are coming from Madison and Dane County or just around Dane County. The global connections that we have in this area are really incredible and when it’s all in one place, it’s easier to see that and it’s kind of surprising and astonishing to see the diversity we have.”

International Fest also provides an opportunity to learn about the many local businesses with global connections.

“One of our goals for this event is to open this space up and let people in the community know that they are welcome here at the Overture Center and that extends to all of the different people and cultures of the area. It’s a fully welcoming space,” Beach says. “It’s a chance for performers to show off their talents and a chance for families to have a great day of performances and food and vendors. It’s all free.”