The World IGNITES Peoria on Saturday, August 8th at the Peoria Civic Center.

From our vibrant Lebanese community to our rich Mexican, Irish and German heritage, cultural diversity has long been celebrated in Greater Peoria through a range of festivals and activities year-round. For a decade, WorldFest was among them—an international exposition at the Peoria Civic Center featuring ethnic cuisine, live entertainment and cultural displays from a range of area groups.

Last year, as the first IGNITE Peoria festival was getting off the ground, the organizers of WorldFest decided to join forces with this unique celebration of regional creativity. In addition to international cultural displays, IGNITE offered something for everyone: photography and songwriting workshops; 3D-printing demonstrations; music, theater and dance from an array of performers; pottery-throwing and Raku demonstrations; a breakdancing competition and fashion show; and dozens of other activities.

IGNITE’s deliberately broad definition of creativity set the stage for a wide-ranging event, encouraging visitors from all walks of life and accounting for nearly 6,500 attendees—well above expectations. In this inclusive environment, WorldFest became The World IGNITES Peoria.

A Beneficial Union
“We feel that the uniting of Worldfest and IGNITE has been very beneficial for both events,” declares Reg Gress, president of the Filipino-American Society of Central Illinois (FASCI). “The number of visitors increased from previous years, [and] we now have a more diverse group of visitors.” That diversity—the result of bringing an array of cultural and arts organizations together under one roof—has been the catalyst for a range of endeavors, from Fashion Ignite to the expansion of Darius Donaldson’s custom car show, and allowed many others to share their work with audiences they would not otherwise reach.

The Park Troupe Mirage, an exotic troupe of Middle Eastern dancers, manned a display booth and offered a performance at last year’s IGNITE festival. “It has been very helpful to merge the two events since IGNITE had much larger audiences,” says Linda Huff, fine arts coordinator with the Peoria Park District, which oversees the group.

George Elias of All Saints Greek Orthodox Church agrees with that assessment. “It’s a different setting, and it takes some time to adjust,” he notes. “But the combination of various art and food displays is inviting.”

A Snapshot of Worlds
Now in its second year, the World IGNITES Peoria promises to be even bigger and better. All Saints Greek Orthodox Church will again be on hand with a multicultural booth and an assortment of food items, including, Elias promises, “the best hummus, Turkish coffee, Greek lemonade and baklava.”

FASCI will return with a booth showcasing Filipino culture, including the ancient game of sungka, wood carvings, seashell art and beaded kimonas. It will also participate in a costume fashion show and host a market booth where souvenirs and costumes can be purchased. The Filipino American Historical Society, a participant in WorldFest since 2004, will complement FASCI’s booth with an extensive display showcasing the rich history and culture of the Philippines, including “souvenir” artifacts brought back by soldiers from World War II.

The Peoria Chinese Association will also take part in the festivities, with volunteers demonstrating calligraphy, serving a variety of Chinese foods, and performing both traditional and modern dances. “We would like to communicate Chinese culture to the world,” declares Jianping Pan. “Chinese art is quite different from the Western style, and Chinese food is delicious. It serves as a great start for kids or adults to get an idea of China and stimulate their interests.”

Meanwhile, Dances from India will perform to a song celebrating Holi, a spring festival, also known as the festival of colors. “The dance performance… is very colorful and really brings the essence of Indian culture,” says Ruchi Gupta. “The audiences will love the colorful costumes, the foot-tapping music and the Bollywood music.”

New to IGNITE this year is Loch Peoria Highland Dance, a group of traditional Scottish Highland dancers led by instructor Jill MacDougall. “Highland is a very physical and demanding form of dance,” she explains. “Several of our dancers will be on hand to perform… and we will be offering participants a chance to try a step.”

Park Troupe Mirage will take visitors on a journey through the Middle East, performing traditional folk dances known as Raks Sharqi, or “dance of the East” in Arabic. “Our director, Thais Banu, gives a short history before each dance,” explains Linda Huff. “We encourage the audience to ask questions… and clap along to the rhythms.”

And that is just a tiny snapshot of the worlds that await at The World IGNITES Peoria… Visit ignitepeoria.com for complete details. a&s