Botanical Garden of the Ozarks hosts a variety of cultures at second annual International Celebration

by Nancy Peevy ( 74 views 

Dancers from the Latin Art Organization of Arkansas.

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville became a melting pot of language and culture on Aug. 29 at their second annual International Celebration.

Dancers in colorful costumers circled the main stage as international groups performed for the estimated crowd of 1,000 people from all over the world. Groups performing included the European Folk Dancers, the African Student Organization of the University of Arkansas, Panamanian Dancers, Afrique Aya, the Latin Art Organization of Arkansas, the Chinese Association of NWA, TerraNova Tribal, and Hawaiian Dance by Fatima Pollard.

New this year was a secondary stage on a grassy area behind the butterfly house on which additional groups — India Fusion-Bolly X and Brazilian Dance — performed.

For the second year, Al “Papa Rap” Lopez, emceed the evening. He also performed some of his own music, encouraging the children in attendance to dance along. Liz Atwell, communications coordinator for the BGO, said the response to the first year’s event was so successful that organizers knew they had to offer the event again.

“We just had an overwhelming response from the community wanting to be involved, and then the attendance really blew everybody away,” she said.

The International Celebration showcased the diversity of the region and was an educational opportunity for guests, Atwell said.

“We hope that people will be exposed to a lot of different cultures that maybe they haven’t had the opportunity to interact with before,” she said. “And it’s a fun night for people representing these international groups to show off what their culture has to offer and what’s great about their particular culture.”

Guests at the event browsed about 20 booths from a variety of organizations and countries such as Indonesia, India, Jamaica, China, Japan, Panama, Nepal, Iran, Timor-Leste, Vietnam and Brazil. Booths contained posters with facts about the country and items to examine such as artwork, clothing, carved wood, games and puppets.

The International Celebration featured dancers from all over the world.

At her booth, Nguyen “Helen” Ngo demonstrated puppets from her country of Vietnam, and she shared how the puppets told the story of the harvest each year. She said she wanted to help guests know more about Vietnam and the traditions that are a part of it.

Hisae Yale and Mari Rieck, both from Japan, helped attendees make origami pinwheels and said they were encouraged that guests were interested in their culture.

“We love traditional Japanese stuff because it is so beautiful, like kimonos or pinwheels,” Yale said. “It’s nice to share with people here.”

This event was the final Tyson Tuesday night of the summer. From June to August again this year, Tyson Foods sponsored free admission to the BGO, with some evenings including programs ranging from a “Jack and the Beanstalk” performance by Opera in the Ozarks, to summer concerts with local performers, to the international celebration.

Attendees were encouraged to bring picnics to all the Tyson Tuesday nights, which lasted from 5 to 8 p.m. Atwell said she hoped attendees who had never been to the BGO before would come and learn about the gardens and visit again, either as a guest or as a member.

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is a collection of 12 themed gardens, including the region’s only butterfly house. The organization provides “educational, entertainment and recreational opportunities for students, residents and garden visitors to increase their appreciation of the native an natural ecosystem of the Ozarks,” according to its website.

Daily admission is $7 for adults (ages 13 and up), $4 for children (ages 5-12) and free for children age 4 and under.