The Savannah Asian Cultural Festival has found a good home on the campus of Armstrong State University.
Produced by Armstrong and the city of Savannah’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the festival is free and open to the public. One of the South’s largest Asian celebrations, it will be April 21 and 22 at Armstrong’s main campus.
“We are honored to co-host the Savannah Asian Cultural Festival on our campus for the third consecutive year,” says Armstrong President Linda M. Bleicken. “This lively celebration stands apart as a showcase of cultural diversity, offering a wide range of educational experiences for attendees of all ages.”
Various Asian cultures will present live performances and serve their finest cuisine. The festival will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Armstrong Fine Arts Auditorium.
There will be live music and dance from a range of countries, including Japan, South Korea and China. A Tae Kwon Do exhibition will be presented by Grandmaster Jong Ho Lee, a 9th degree black belt with more than 50 years of experience in the martial arts, and his students.
On Saturday, the festival will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., offering live performances as well as a selection of cuisine from local restaurants. The food will represent Polynesia, China, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.
Bleicken will be joined by Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach to welcome festivalgoers. The main stage on Burnett Lawn will host a Parade of Nations, with participants from 20 countries in their native dress carrying flags.
Other highlights will include Japanese Taiko drumming and traditional Chinese, Thai, Filipino, Polynesian and Indian dance, which will be presented throughout the day.
The Cultural Marketplace will feature traditional arts, crafts, fashions and treasures unique to each nation.
Free classes in karate, yoga, belly dancing, Tai Chi and Indian dance will be offered in the International Garden. There also will be a Pakistani tea ceremony.
“We’ll have food and things to buy,” says Deidra Dennie, Armstrong’s director of equity, diversity and inclusion. “It’s fun for all ages.
“There will be music and performances, all family friendly. It’s an opportunity to come and explore other cultures from the safety of Savannah.
“You don’t need a passport to go,” she says. “Food is always at the top of the list.”
The effort to find food vendors starts early, Dennie says.
“There are hoops that the vendors have to jump through, which makes it difficult for some people to participate,” she says. “If you’ve got a business and weekends are busy, you may not have the time or the crew to come.
“We send emails and packages and sign-up sheets and knock on doors to everybody in town,” Dennie says. “No restaurant goes untouched by our crew. Food is probably at the top of the list.”
An annual crowd favorite is a performance by the Matsuriza Taiko Drummers of Japan.
“They perform Friday night and Saturday, and at night, it’s spectacular,” Dennie says. “The drums and sticks light up.”
The festival is just as popular with vendors as with participants.
“Last year and, I suspect, the year before, several vendors sold out of merchandise,” Dennie says. “We had 8,000 people attend, and I don’t think they expected that many. Hopefully, fingers crossed, the weather will be as spectacular as it was last year.”
At least 8,000 people are expected to attend this year.
“The festival is outdoors, but just in case of bad weather, it will be held in the Alumni Arena,” Dennie says. “We will set up as much as we can.”
New this year is the Kids’ Zone, with inflatables and games.
“Every year, we try to add something different,” Dennie says. “The Kids’ Zone is new and different. We have a few other performers we didn’t have last year and a couple of new vendors.”
Dennie says she’s excited about the festival.
“I really like everything,” she says. “My favorite part is meeting Asian community members and getting to know them and getting to know what they want and try to deliver it.
“I like talking to folks and listening and learning. Every year, there’s a new idea that comes out.
“We bid for the festival every year,” Dennie says. “The city doesn’t have to choose us, but they have for three years now.”
Perhaps the best part of the Asian Festival is its location, Dennie says.
“We’re having something on the Southside,” she says. “I don’t live downtown, I live on the Southside.
“There are not a lot of festivals or big parades that happen on the Southside. It’s also great because it’s where I work.
“I just hope people will come out, have a nice time, experience the food, the new sights and sounds,” Dennie says. “We’re trying to improve it every year.”
Dorothee Mertz-Weigel, Armstrong’s director of international education, also is excited that the festival is returning.
“We wanted to make sure we had a few more attractions for children. We have bouncy houses and a photo station where people can stand in front of an Asian-related background or take a selfie,” she says.
There is usually a line in front of the food vendors.
“That is something people need to be ready for,” Mertz-Weigel says. “It’s so popular, there is a line.
“There is an overall atmosphere of celebration. We have bands, martial arts, music, yoga, belly dancing, karate, a lot of things to present onstage.
“Just the diversity and being able to travel to Asia while not going that far or spending thousands of dollars is worth it,” she says. “The parade of flags at the very beginning of the day on Saturday is something people enjoy, as well. It is very colorful and the choreography is wonderful for the Parade of Nations.”
The festival is fun for everyone.
“Everybody, please come,” says Mertz-Weigel. “We have ordered sunshine, and hope it will be delivered. It’s a family-oriented event and we are very proud to have it on the Armstrong campus.”
IF YOU GO
What: Savannah Asian Cultural Festival
When: 7:30 p.m. April 21; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 22
Where: Armstrong State University, 11935 Abercorn St.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Armstrong Fine Arts Auditorium
A celebration of Asian cultural arts emceed by Pastor Joseph Wong of Hong Kong, featuring the Matsuriza Taiko Drummers of Japan, traditional Chinese music and dance performances, South Korean dancers with Master Lee and Myung Lee and Prince Pele’s Polynesian Revue.
Armstrong Burnett Lawn Main Stage
11 a.m. Official opening featuring the Parade of Nations
11:45 a.m. Tae Kwon Do exhibition with Master Lee
12:15 p.m. Matsuriza Taiko Drummers of Japan
12:45 p.m. Thailand Dancers led by Val Prompalin
1 p.m. Chinese musicians and dancers, featuring Xiaobin Lange folk dance, Lynn Yu pipa solo and Jiayi Zhong traditional dance
1:40 p.m. Filipino Dancers from Savannah
2:05 p.m. Prince Pele’s Polynesian Revue
2:40 p.m. SGVP SANATAN Mandir Group with Garba Dance and Bollywood
3:05 p.m. Belly Dancing by Salwa Brannen
3:15 p.m. Tae Kwon Do exhibition
All day: Cultural Marketplace
Armstrong International Gardens
11 a.m. Indian Dance Performance
Noon Yoga Class
1 p.m. Tai Chi with Myung Lee
1:30 p.m. Belly Dancing Class with Salwa Brannen
2 p.m. Karate with Pooler Karate School
3 p.m. Bollywood Class with Janki Patel
All day: Traditional Pakistani Tea Ceremony