Cross-Cultural Festivals – do they work? (feat. Africultures Festival)

Cross-Cultural Festivals – do they work? (feat. Africultures Festival)

My husband and I attended the Africultures Festival for the first time this year. It was a ridiculously hot day, but we were excited to do something different on a weekend.

Colourful, sunny – but needed a bit more shade!

It got me thinking, do these cultural festivals, such as Africultures and Parramasala, actually achieve their aims of building ties between cultures in the community? What are the things that help this? What hinders it or what are the gaps?

But first, what are the goals of these festivals? From what I have observed:

  1. is to give people from African cultures (or whichever cultures are featuring) an opportunity to celebrate what they love, be reminded of home, connect with friends etc.
  2. is to give people from other cultures an insight into the feature culture(s) and an opportunity to build ties with each other. 
  3. (There may be a third – for community services to make contact with people, but I don’t see it as a primary aim).

I want to focus on Number 2 in this blog, as I think they tend to be pretty good at Number 1.

As we walked around the Africultures festival, there were many, many stalls; some were selling food, some were service providers passing out information and others were selling African cultural products. I was interested in quite a few of the service providers and the product stalls. But here’s where I came across my first hindrance – no one would strike up a conversation with me!! I was clearly interested – I would pick up brochures or items from the table, look intently at the stall – yet it was rare to even get a “hello.” I even tried to start the conversation after a while, but was mostly met with one word answers. To be honest, I was disappointed. Here was my shot at learning something new, and yet no one else seemed to be actually interested in offering that opportunity.

So my number 1 tip (and I’m giving it away early in the piece) – if you’re there to promote cross-cultural ties in the community, festival volunteers/stall holders should be willing to talk to people!

Calming down and moving on, the food at the Africultures festival was great! I tried some Jamaican chicken – yes, technically not part of Africa, but it has strong influences from there and I’m glad they were included – it was so incredibly yummy! Unfortunately “Slim Jim’s Caribbean BBQ” only do markets/festivals and don’t have a restaurant – I asked for the recipe, but the guy laughed and said he’d have to kill me 🙂

So food is definitely a positive – it’s a brilliant and easy aspect of culture to share with everyone, and when it’s delicious, it’s sure to put everyone in a good mood!

But I still felt like I was missing opportunities for interaction. As I’ve mentioned, it was insanely hot – one of those days in Australia where you feel the sun burning the skin instantly. Unfortunately there wasn’t much shade, so when you did try and find a seat in one of the small shaded areas, you were sitting quite close to people. You would think this would be a great opportunity to strike up a conversation, but again, no. In this technology-filled day and age, people really need to be hand held into activities that will guide them in interacting with each other and building new friendships.

Great performance, but where’s the connection?

The music and dance performances were nice, but I was losing hope of any real bridge-building taking place….

UNTIL this wonderful, smiling woman dragged a few people in from the crowd to participate in the dancing. FINALLY, SOME CROSS-CULTURAL INTERACTION!! And the next act after the dance was the opportunity for the crowd to come and play some African musical instruments – what a great learning activity! To my relief, there were more interactive things in the afternoon too – though by then we were fried crispy and needed to head home 🙂

Oh – there’s the connection 🙂 The guy had
some unique dance moves haha
Amazing Jamaican chicken!

Having grown up in a not-for-profit organisation that is an expert in community festivals, perhaps this is why I particularly notice what’s missing. Games, interactive activities (e.g. the music one at the Africultures festival, or group paintings, or team challenges etc), or even just making sure the festival volunteers are geared up to chat to people and have an aim of getting people to build new friendships, could go a very long way to making these fun cultural festivals have a greater impact on cross-cultural ties.

A bit of a ramble of a post, but what are your thoughts? What else could festivals do to actually create genuine, significant cross-cultural ties in communities?

p.s. Here’s my brief blog post on Parramasala


Scroll to Top