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World Beat Festival celebrates multiculturalism and stimulates Salem economy

Written by Carlin Croff on Jun. 29th, 2024
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Salem Multicultural Institute turns Riverfront Park into a vibrant cultural hub this weekend for the annual World Beat Festival, offering diverse experiences and a boost for the economy.

The Festival began in 1998 in response to an act of racism in a local high school, with the goal of uniting the Salem community . Organizers hoped to break down cultural tensions by immersing the community in the beauty of unfamiliar cultures.

Executive Director of Salem Multicultural Institute Kathleen Fish emphasizes the critical role local businesses play in this event. They provide financial sponsorship, offer in-kind donations, and serve in various volunteer roles.

Owner of La Familia Cider Company José Gonzalez has been enjoying the event for over 15 years and even served on the board of directors for a time. Now he fills an essential partnership by donating kegs of fresh cider for guests to enjoy and providing access to a refrigerated trailer through their distributor. These drinks generate significant revenue for Salem Multicultural Institute.

“I learned about the organization behind it, and the way it was founded, and the reason it was founded, and it was just about bring people together,” Gonzalez said. “It pulled me in, and I want to support it as long as I can.”

Not only do local businesses promote the Festival, but the Festival also gives back to the local economy. Americans for the Arts found that arts and culture events across the U.S. generated around $151 billion in economic activity in 2022. 

More than half of that comes from visitor spending at these events, such as food or souvenirs from local vendors. The study estimates that the typical attendee spends $38.46 per person.

“We love supporting local businesses,” Fish said. “When we’re setting up the festival, we try to hire as many local businesses as possible.”

The Dragon Boat races alone draw crowds from Seattle, Tacoma, Gig Harbor, and Portland, Fish said. These guests stay in local hotels, shop at local stores, and eat at local restaurants.

“For us, we notice that this event brings in people that probably would not have known about our business had it not been for the World Beat,” Gonzalez said.

Fish speculates that this kind of event draws businesses to the Salem area as well. “If you’re an employer and you want to attract top notch employees at all levels, from line staff to executives, you want to have a community where people have positive things to do,” Fish said.

The Festival offers a wide range of cultural experiences, from the Pacific Islands to Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. This year’s spotlight on Ukraine offers visitors the chance to explore traditional music, dance, crafts and food, inviting people into a heritage often overshadowed by recent events.

“It’s a country people tend not to know a lot about, and we’re trying to focus on the wonderful cultural traditions that country has,” Fish said. “Also, there are a lot of Ukrainian refugees here in Salem, and in Oregon as a whole.”

The World Beat Festival celebrates a rich multicultural mosaic that finds its home in Salem, while also paying long-term dividends to the local businesses that bring it to life.

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