Meet the Maker: Sunita Gupta 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 smorgasbord of international delicacies can be experienced right here in Kingston, at the annual Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival.

For six hours, Confederation Park will transform into a miniature global village, alive with the sights, sounds, and tastes of 22 different regions of the world. The Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival (KMAF for short) invites Kingston’s various ethnocultural associations to share the beauty of their unique cultures through dance, song, art workshops, and pavilions featuring educational displays and traditional delicacies. Sunita Gupta, former president of the India-Canada Association, 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,’” she says.

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 folklore 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 Gupta. “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,” she 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, Moroccan band Ayrad, Quebecois singer Marieme, and the ever-popular Bollywood dance troupe Shiamak. 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 try screen printing, watercolours, 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… oh, the food. “Nothing brings us together like food,” says Gupta. For foodies with a palate for exotic eats, this festival is the stuff of dreams. Savoury samosas, plump pupusas, lip-smacking dishes of butter chicken, shawarma, falafel, and more will tempt your taste buds as you wander from pavilion to pavilion. 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. Gupta’s advice for experiencing the festival fare: “Come hungry. ”

Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival
Sunita Gupta (front row, fourth from right) poses with a crew of dedicated KMAF volunteers at the 2015 festival. Photo via 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. Gupta explains that the festival isn’t about making money, but is instead an endeavour 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,” she says. “Diversity is important. Even if we look at it simply from a workforce perspective, we need immigration. But newcomers also bring the diversity in skills, ideology, and culture that makes us a richer community. We can learn so much from one another.”

In the nine years since its inception, Gupta 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,” she 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.