International Festival at the Overture Center for the Arts is probably the only place in Madison where you can find traditional Bolivian folkloric dances, Jamaican food, Japanese drumming, Greek Gypsy dances, Afro-Brazilian martial-art dance, Filipino protest songs, 12-feet long Swiss alphorns, and hand-crafted items from Palestine … all in one spot.
The annual event festival that celebrates the rich cultural heritage and diversity of the greater Madison community with free performances throughout the Overture Center has expanded to a two-day event and will take place on Saturday, April 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, April 2, 1-4 p.m.
“These are the people that call Dane County home and this is a space for them to meet their neighbors and to learn about their cultures,” Allison Ward, the programming and community engagement coordinator for the Overture Center for the Arts, tells Madison365. “It’s a chance to maybe try some different foods that you’ve never tried before or learn about a culture that you may not know too much about and get to listen to music from a different place.
“Being able to find those commonalities and celebrating those differences is something that is really beautiful and fun about International Festival,” she adds.
International Fest 2023 will have arts and crafts from around the world and information from many local organizations and businesses with global connections. There will be more than 40 cultures represented with 30-plus artists and 30-plus craft/arts and food vendors.
And there will be delicious food from all over the world. On Saturday, the International Cafe will feature food from local restaurants including Café Costa Rica LLC, Jakarta Café, Madame Chu Delicacies, Spice Yatra, M&J Jamaican Kitch’n, Toast, Italian Workmen’s Club – Madison, La Joe Bla LLC, and Rolling Pin Bake Shop.
“People really love the food at International Fest and we will have quite a bit to offer on Saturday,” Ward says. “We won’t have food on Sunday, but we’ll still have vendors who are happy to stay for the second day … so we’ll still have a full market.”
Sunday’s performances will feature Taiko drumming from Beni Daiko, Bharatanatyam classical Indian dance from Meenakshi Ganesan and the Kalaanjali Dance Company, Japanese Okinawan style taiko drumming from Okami Taiko, traditional Sar Pink style of Lion Dance with live music from Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association, and a performance by the Madison Chinese Culture Association.
“We’re actually going to have a discussion between the two drumming groups because their styles are so different. It will be a great chance for people to learn more about the groups and for them to kind of talk about their differences,” Ward says.
International Festival 2023 is funded by Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison, CUNA Mutual Group, Madison Community Foundation and Dane Arts, according to a press release from the Overture Center. More than 100 area schools are expected to join the festival from their classrooms the week of April 3 to learn about global cultures through online videos and study guides.
“It feels like we are getting back to where we were pre-pandemic…. Just with the level of vendors that we used to have before the pandemic,” Ward says. The Overture Center hosted a virtual International Fest during the pandemic before doing a hybrid event last year.
Ward emphasized a couple of featured events taking place at the Promenade Hall on Saturday and Sunday.
“The Little Eagle Arts Foundation, one of our Indigenous organizations being represented this year, will be presenting hands-on art activities and will exhibit examples of regalia from the LEAF art collection,” Ward says. Some of those activities will include beaded friendship bracelets and deer sculptures with black ash fiber. “We will also have students ambassadors from UW-Madison International Reach who share some pieces and will talk about what things are like in their home countries. So that’s exciting.”
All performances at International Fest are free to attend and feature artists who call Dane County home. The annual event will give people of all ages and backgrounds a chance to explore, meet new people, find new favorites and develop new tastes. Guests may participate in person at Overture or online for select live-streamed performances via Overture’s Facebook page.
“We have a lot of things planned for the two days and we’re really excited about it,” Ward says.