Meet the Maker: Constantin Mugenga of the Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival

By Sara Smith

People dream of travelling the globe to experience different ways of life, but sometimes you just need to look outside your door. A world of cultural diversity, a rainbow of backgrounds and traditions, and a medley of international delicacies can be experienced right here in Kingston, at the annual Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival.

From 11:30 am – 5:30 pm on September 8th, Confederation Park will transform into a miniature global village, alive with the sights, sounds, and tastes of 21 different regions of the world. The Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival (KMAF) invites Kingston’s various ethno-cultural associations to share the beauty of their unique cultures through dance, song, art workshops, and pavilions featuring educational displays and traditional delicacies. Constantin Mugenga, the new Co-lead, works through the Kingston Immigration Partnership (KIP) to bring this yearly event together.

“This event is an opportunity for the residents of Kingston from various ethnicities to say, ‘This is what our food is, this is what our art is, and this is how we celebrate,’”

Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival
Participants of all ages come together to celebrate and share their folklore. Photo via Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival

The driving force behind the creation of KMAF was each cultural group’s desire to share their culture with the local community. For newcomers who have recently arrived in the Kingston area, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the diversity they bring with them while getting to know their neighbours in a festive atmosphere.

“The ethnocultural associations are an integral part of this festival,” says Constantin. “Without their involvement, this festival wouldn’t be what it is.”

“It’s hard to put into words, but it creates a sense of belonging, as if one is part of something bigger,” he says. “It’s bright, colourful, everybody’s smiling, and there’s a buzz in the air.” This welcoming, vibrant event will feature musical and dance performances, including Chinese dancers, African singers and dancers, a Scottish band and Highland dancers, world drumming, Ollin Drum Circle, Remesha Drums from Ottawa, Fussian Music Kingston, Traditional Neapali folksongs, Irish Dancing, and the ever popular Wesli Band from Montreal. Hour-long workshops will also take place, teaching traditional forms of creative expression.

Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival
Beautiful costumes, dazzling dance moves, and more will be on display at KMAF. Photo via Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival

This year, visitors can expect to attempt screen printing, Irish dancing, water colour painting, Mayan worry doll making, Chinese painting, Arabic Calligraphy and Rock painting. Young and old alike will find so much to enjoy at KMAF, from the lively music and performances to the kids’ tent that features face-painting and other activities for little ones.

And then there’s the food, “Nothing brings us together like food,” says Constantin. For foodies with a palate for exotic eats, this festival is the stuff of dreams. Savoury samosas, plump pupusas, incomparable dishes of butter chicken, shawarma, falafel, and more will tempt your taste buds as you wander from pavilion to pavilion. “The traditional recipes and homemade style will be unlike anything else you could find on a restaurant menu, it’ll be just like having dinner in the home of a local community member, this food truly is unique” says Constantin. Follow your nose to the Filipino pavilion, where the aroma of fresh frying spring rolls will draw you in and make your mouth water. Even better, wallet-friendly prices make it easy for visitors to sample the offerings of multiple regions. Constantin’s advice for experiencing the festival fare: “Come hungry.”

Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival

Aside from the food and handicrafts for sale, admission to KMAF is completely free, and the various associations aren’t charged anything for their space. Constantin explains that the festival isn’t about making money, but is instead an endeavor to build community. “Given the tensions that we live with in this day and age, it’s really important that we learn from one another, and promote dialogue,” he says. “Diversity is important. If we can help make these groups more visible and show what a rich multicultural community we live in, we can facilitate education and understanding, preventing the ignorant messages we see all too often. Newcomers bring diversity in skills, ideology and culture that make us a richer community. We can learn so much from one another.”

In the ten years since its inception, Mugenga has seen the diversity of Kingston grow, and with it, the success of the KMAF. “Each year, this feeling of warmth and community seems to grow and deepen,” he says. “We always hope that this spirit of celebrating others will continue long after the festival is over.”

Find more information on the Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival, here.