Inaugural Culture Fest brings out best of everything

Published 11:43 am Friday, October 21, 2011

A new celebration is taking over the Lake Charles Civic Center this weekend —  Culture Fest Louisiana, a celebration of the cultural diversity of the community.

The free festival opens with musical performances at 6:30 p.m. today at the Arcade Amphitheater and continues 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday on the second floor of the Civic Center. The festival is the climax of Diversity Week, a series of culturally diverse events.

The festival was fostered by Common Ground, an organization created to show the cultural diversity of Southwest Louisiana.

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“Southwest Louisiana has existing events promoting the Cajun and Creole cultures, but we have so many other cultures represented in the community,” said Pat Kelty, a member of Common Ground. “We wanted to showcase the many others.”

Common Ground began with a few women getting together over coffee four or five years ago.

Since then it has grown to include men and women with a multitude of backgrounds, she said. Last year the group sponsored a “9/12” observance at the 9/11 memorial on the lake with the idea that “with a better understanding of each other, maybe something like that (the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States) will never happen again.”

Common Ground organized a New Year’s Eve dinner with participating members of the Jewish community, Cubans who live here and other ethnic groups, she said. Members also helped with the Black Heritage Festival.

The city of Lake Charles, civic organizations, schools and commercial sponsors have partnered to stage Culture Fest.

Areas on the second floor will include the cultural display area, Kids International Village, retail space featuring merchandise from around the world, a fashion show, World Cafe and continuous entertainment on four stages.

Activities kick off at 6:30 p.m. today on the Louisiana Stage with Native American flute music by Peter Villegas, Celtic songs and the Grammy-no`minated Cajun band the Lost Bayou Ramblers. There also will be tastings of beers and wines from around the world.

A highlight of the day will be a hands-on performance by Zig Wajler at 11 a.m. in Rosa Hart Theater, Kelty said. Wajler is an author and educator who presents interactive educational music programs on instruments from around the world. Audience members actively participate.

“Hands on with Zig Wajler” opens the doors to a world of percussion, introducing rhythms, sounds and song-styles with authentic traditional instruments, folkloric songs and original compositions. World musical styles include African, Native American, Latin, hip-hop, jazz, Americana and Caribbean.

The Indian dance troupe Naach Houston will present excerpts from its latest production, “Bollywood Blast: Once Upon a Time,” which was inspired by fairy tales.

Other entertainment will include belly dancers, McNeese State University steel drums led by Lonnie Benoit, African-American choirs from LaGrange and Washington-Marion high schools, Spanish choir from Frasch Elementary School, Scottish bagpipes arranged by Celtic Nations and other musical groups.

In the Kids International Village, children will experience henna painting on hands, art projects, diversity wall painting project, learning a song in Spanish, group dance lessons, face painting, thumb prints on tiles to be incorporated into Millennium Park, Zoomba lessons, calligraphy, origami and a “try-athelon.”

For more information on Diversity Week and Culture Fest Louisiana, visit

, email

or call 409-9636.

Culture Fest Louisiana is sponsored by Coushatta Casino Resort, the city of Lake Charles, Citgo, Nissan of Lake Charles, Global Management Services, Sasol, the Lake Charles/SWLA Convention and Visitors Bureau, Charter Schools USA, Lake Charles Charter Foundation, Brask, City Savings Bank, The Decorative Center, Deep South Productions, Home Health 2000, Iberia Bank, Joseph’s Electrical Center, Mark Dodge, Whitney Bank, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest LouisianaNaach Houston