TOWER GROVE PARK – In 2000, organizers of a new festival dedicated to showcasing the talents of the international community were delighted when 2,000 to 3,000 people attended the event.
Nineteen years later, about 125,000 people a year attend the annual Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park.
This year’s festival, set for Aug. 24-25, will feature musical performances and dance troupes from all over the world, crafts and gifts from more than 35 nations and more than 45 ethnic food booths.
In the World Sports & Games Meadow, visitors can watch games from all over the world being played – and learn how to play them themselves.
“It’s about sharing their cultures and about St. Louis coming to the event and actually learning and better appreciating those cultures,” said Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, the event’s sponsor.
The event is an opportunity to be immersed in international culture in a way that’s not possible anywhere else in the St. Louis region, Crosslin said.
Because less than six percent of the region’s population is foreign-born, people may think that community is far removed, Crosslin said.
“The opportunity that people have by coming to the Festival of Nations is to build their awareness that even though they may not live or work around people who are foreign-born, indeed the region is home to many of them,” she said.
“For all of its 20 years, there are some things that are the same, and that is that it’s a family fun event,” Crosslin said. “Even though there’s dance and music and gifts to buy and games and everything else, 80 percent of the people in our exit surveys say they came for the food. So that’s always the most popular thing there is.”
The festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 24 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 25 in the central-west section of Tower Grove Park. It had been in an eastern section near Grand Boulevard but is being moved to a shadier location. Because the location is slightly different, Crosslin said people planning to come should check the website at http://festivalofnationsstl.org/ for information on parking, a shuttle bus, wheelchair accessibility and other information.
More than 100 local ethnic and international organizations and more than 600 volunteers are helping.
Groups will entertain on the Enterprise Magnolia Stage, the World Music Stage and the Centene Charitable Foundation Forest Stage.
People can try their hands at everything from Chinese brush painting to Eritrean weaving in Artisan’s Way. Hiroshi Tada will do Japanese Top Spinning.
Motorists can park inside and around the park. There are free shuttle stops on the edge of the park. Parking for the handicapped is available at the Grand entrance at the east end of the festival and at its west end.
Secured parking off-site is available on St. Louis University’s Marie Curie Parking Lot at 1100 Carr Lane Ave. and at the university’s Springfield/Creighton parking lot adjacent to Salus Center at Grand and Lafayette Street. Air-conditioned shuttle buses will take people to the festival from those lots.