Summer Latin celebration planned

Downtown Red Deer will be spiced up with Latin food, salsa music and dance this summer during the one-day Fiestaval.

Drummer Raul Gomez and guitarist Jorjé Nunez play Latin music at the Thursday launch of Fiestaval

Drummer Raul Gomez and guitarist Jorjé Nunez play Latin music at the Thursday launch of Fiestaval

Downtown Red Deer will be spiced up with Latin food, salsa music and dance this summer during the one-day Fiestaval.

The city’s first-ever celebration of Latin culture will take over Ross Street around the new cenotaph park on Saturday, Aug. 21, from noon to 6 p.m.

Expect boisterous entertainment by large salsa bands, folkloric art and dances, a beer garden, ethnic foods and handicraft sales, and a variety of children’s activities.

Fiestaval is expected to draw 6,000 to 8,000 people to the downtown just a few weeks after the Centrefest street performers festival is held on July 31 and Aug. 1.

The time, the focus will be on multiculturalism because Red Deer’s ready for it, said Christian Greiffenstein, of the Calgary-based Multicultural Arts Society, which is hosting Fiestaval in partnership with the Downtown Red Deer Business Association.

“You have a very welcoming, supportive community” that’s also centrally located, added Greiffenstein.

Not only has Red Deer become home to a “humongous” number of South American immigrants over the last decade — particularly Colombians — but he believes the city has gained many other ethnic groups as well, which may eventually decide to celebrate their own culture.

The Multicultural Arts Society already hosts a Latin festival in Calgary that draws 125,000 people every summer, including many Central Albertans. This year, the larger three-year-old event will run with 210 vendors, 77 Latin entertainers from Western Canada and eight international bands on July 24 and 25.

But Greiffenstein said Red Deer people of Latin extraction have also been craving a celebration of their culture closer to home. “They’ve been asking us why don’t you do (a festival) here?”

Greiffenstein’s group recently approached the Downtown Red Deer Business Association with the idea and received a very positive response.

“We were familiar with the Calgary festival and we thought it would be a perfect fit,” said Janice Shimek, the association’s promotions director, who helps organize the much bigger two-day Centrefest, which has been a huge hit with Red Deer-area residents.

Shimek noted that about 70 per cent of the people who enjoy Latin entertainment are non-Latins.

Fiestaval has the potential to draw tourists from as far as Calgary and Edmonton, as well as Central Alberta, so Shimek believes many more people will become familiar with Red Deer’s unique downtown businesses.

“The retailers might not see the benefit on the day of the event, but (Fiestaval) will bring people back who say, ‘I didn’t know that shop was there,’” said Shimek, who expects the cenotaph park to be completed by mid-August.

The estimated $28,000 cost of the festival is expected to be covered by government grants, business and corporate sponsorships and vendor registrations. Anyone interested in running a sales table or vendor booth can get more information from www.fiestaval.ca.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com