Bringing The World Home

Harrisonburg’s International Festival Makes Global Local

By Elizabeth Rome, Rocktown Weekly

How much fun can you fit into six hours on a Saturday? Ask the organizers of Harrisonburg’s 11th annual International Festival and they’ll tell you – a lot.

From noon until 6 p.m. on Sept. 27, the festival at Hillandale Park will feature performances by six international dance troupes, more than 30 vendors selling food and goods from around the world, tons of craft projects, a space for teens and a Green Village where guests can learn about the environment.

"I feel like we’re one of Harrisonburg’s best-kept secrets," said Vaunda Brown, festival co-chair.

Gone Green

A new addition to the festival, the Green Village will showcase Earth-friendly art projects and provide information on environmental efforts ranging from recycling to composting, said Brown.

"The great need to inform ourselves about how to live to … take care of ourselves," as well as educate new residents on the environmental programs in Harrisonburg, led to the creation of the village, she said.

Both art projects taking place in the village, "Earth Space" and "Have a Heart," are interactive pieces that will build throughout the day. "They’re both really cool," said Brown.

Using local clay found in Harrisonburg, artist Nathan Horst will help volunteers create a large structure for "Earth Space." After the festival, organizers plan to fire the structure and turn it into a play space for children, said Brown.

"Have a Heart" will use everyday non-recyclable trash to create a sculpture somewhat like a pinata, she said. When visitors created a similar piece of art at a previous festival "it probably was one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen in my life," said Brown.

Additionally, Eastern Mennonite University students will bring bicycles to ride while collecting recyclable trash around the facility, and parking at Hillandale will be reserved for cars carrying four or more people to encourage carpooling, said Brown. Read more about ‘being green’ at EMU

There will be additional unrestricted parking available at Thomas Harrison Middle School and Westover Park with free shuttle service to Hillandale.

Keeping It Local

The festival will feature performances on two different stages throughout the day. The main stage will host dancers performing Aztec, Eastern European, West African, Indian, Mexican and Kurdish dances. On the interactive stage, storytellers will share world folk tales, the Stuart Hall Music club will perform and there will be an international fashion show.

In keeping with the green theme, "we tried to focus more on local and regional [performers]," said co-chair Tina Owens.

With the exception of the Indian dancers, all of the performers are from the Shenandoah Valley. "It’s amazing how much talent there is just in this area and the diversity of it," said Owens.

In addition to about 20 people working year-round on the festival’s planning committee, it takes approximately 300 volunteers to help run the day of the event, said Brown. Many of the volunteers are students from the local colleges and high schools, she said.

"It’s just amazing to me that so many groups and organizations get involved," said Brown, who has been a part of the non-profit organization since the festival began in 1997.

For A Cause

Many vendors in the World Bazaar marketplace will be selling items to raise money for a particular cause. One group plans to help put a roof on a library in Zambia, while another will sell cards to support an orphanage in Liberia, said Brown. "There will be a lot of opportunities to learn about different agencies and support these agencies," she said.

All attendees are encouraged to bring canned food items or cash to donate to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

While food vendors and items from the bazaar cost money, all other activities at the festival are free, including a "celebrations from around the world" activity where visitors can create environmentally-friendly crafts celebrating international holidays, said Brown. The TeenSpace@fest will offer activities such as tai chi, drumming and karate.

In addition, a screening tent will show the films "Latino Underground" and festival-produced "Laughter, the Universal Language."

"We try to be multi-lingual," said Brown, adding that announcements and printed materials will be given in different languages.

Plans To Grow

In future years, Brown sees the International Festival expanding from one day to the entire weekend, with Friday evening events and a World Cup soccer match on Sunday. "It’s the perfect place to celebrate with the community," she said.

After a few months off, planning for next year’s festival will begin in January. "We plan to expand," said Brown. "We welcome people who want to join."

For more information on the festival, visit