Popular Athens tradition closes weeklong observance
May 17, 2007
By Anna Marie Finley and Jessica Cuffman
Like many great traditions, Athens' International Street Fair has evolved over time to become a local and regional favorite. This year's event, set for this Saturday, marks its 25th anniversary and the conclusion of Ohio University's 2007 International Week celebration. Expect many more food choices, a unique children's "tour" event and the guarantee of something unexpected.
The street fair, which runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., is a collaboration of the university's international student groups and nonprofit community organizations. About 30 groups will have stands at the fair, including 15 or so selling food, making it close to the largest number of vendors and almost twice the usual number of places to eat.
Court Street between Union and East Carpenter will be closed, and a stage will be located at intersection of Court and Washington. Performers include Cambodian drummers, belly dancers, cloggers and various other performers. Special performances will be given by the Ohio University African Ensemble at 1 p.m., the Boys of the Hock at 2:45 p.m. and Los Viejos Blanquitos at 4 p.m.
Under the umbrella of the International Student Union, groups such as the Association for Cultural Exchange and the African Student Union will have tables at the fair and participate in a passport-themed children's activity new to the event this year. Sponsored by The Athens Messenger, the Passport Project encourages children to travel from country to country (actually, table to table) to earn a stamp by trying a game or learning something new.
"We have members from so many different places around the world that will get to see children playing the games they played as children," says Erin Liberg, vice president of the Association for Cultural Exchange.
The Passport Project is an example of the evolution of the street fair from year to year, notes Alan Boyd, who is retiring this month after 28 years as director of the Office of International Student and Faculty Services.
"Every year, there is a different dynamic," Boyd says. "It is important that the community take advantage of learning from international students and different cultures," he says, and the street fair is a wonderful opportunity for that to happen.
The unique partnership of the university and community is an important aspect of the fair, agrees senior Dale Albanese, vice president of the International Student Union.
"The international students who come here make no distinction between the university and the Athens community, and the street fair is a time for them to feel home in the community," he says. "It symbolizes a new community that is all-inclusive."
The street fair also serves as a good reminder to university and local community members that there is a lot to take advantage of here.
"It can be easy to forget the wide range of cultures that Athens has to offer its community members and the students of Ohio University, but the International Street Fair is a great reminder of this and a fun way to celebrate," Albanese says.
For many, food is the draw. Curried choices from India, baklava from the Middle East, Chinese rolls and Thai chicken on a stick can strike up curiosity about international food. "The uniqueness of the food at the street fair," Boyd says, "depends on your perspective." A lover of world travel himself, nothing strikes Boyd as unusual.
The array of music that has gotten people's toes tapping over the years is quite extensive, he added. Peruvian pan pipe players, a solo folk singing-bluegrass performer, an African drumming group and a Caribbean steel band were among Boyd's favorites.
The spontaneous events can sometimes trump the planned ones.
"One time ... it rained at about 4 in the afternoon," Boyd recalls. "The Pakistani students got out in the middle of the street and started dancing and got other people to dance with them in the rain. It was just the most sensational demonstration of intercultural spontaneity I have ever seen."
If this year is like most, dancing will leave the last impression on fairgoers, including Boyd.
"It's a great way to end the street fair: We have a little street dance," he says. "By that time the street is mobbed with lots of people, and they're all very enthusiastic.
"I've always carried the vision that that's going to happen," he adds.