Long-running Pittsburgh Folk Festival re-brands itself as Celebrate Pittsburgh

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After 58 years, a long-standing Pittsburgh institution is getting a makeover. In a city like Pittsburgh, where traditions are revered and respected, that's news.

The Pittsburgh Folk Festival will now be known as Celebrate Pittsburgh.

"We spoke to a number of agencies about the perception of the festival at large, and they suggested a name change to attract a modern demographic and newer immigrants," said board president Karen Hall.

Pittsburgh Folk Festival now Celebrate Pittsburgh

When: 4-10 p.m. Friday.

Where: Monroeville Convention Center, 209 Mall Blvd.

Admission: $5; children under 12 and veterans are free.

Also: Senior Care Program will welcome seniors and physically challenged from 1-4 p.m. Cost is $5 per guest and companion admission is free. Call 412-561-0321 to make arrangements.

The all-volunteer leadership decided that a multi-year rebranding effort was necessary and came up with a name that it felt was more inclusive of the many programs and cultural groups under the umbrella of the Pittsburgh Folk Festival. The new name and its motto "Celebrating Cultural Heritage since 1956" is more representative of what the festival is about.

One of the important components of the festival is the multicultural education program. This year's theme focuses on the UNESCO World Heritage sites. These are sites such as The Statue of Liberty, St. Peter's Square and other attractions that are important to a country and its cultural history.

The program attracts students from all over the region and meets state guidelines for multicultural education, Ms. Hall said. The students participate in "Around the World in a Day" where they get a passport and visit booths learning about the world cultures. Educational initiatives include the folk arts, music, history, culture and geography. Each visit awards a passport stamp and students can show their "travels" for the day.

"There are programs for grade levels two-12 and a high school program for grades nine-12 that will focus on international careers." That program will feature a panel discussion with representatives from the World Affairs Council, California University and the Peace Corps. Students will attend through their schools.

This year the festival will be open to the public for only one evening and organizers hope to return to a two-day event next year. Ms. Hall explained that the rebranding effort has required a lot of work so they wanted to focus on quality programming.

What hasn't changed is the festival's tradition of great international music. Entertainment starts at 5:30 p.m. Twelve countries including Greece, India and Lithuania will perform mini-sets throughout the evening with an evening feature performer.

"We decided to highlight a different country every year, and this year we started with Italy," Ms. Hall said. Christina Chirumbolo will perform Italian favorites with the 40-piece Metropolitan Italian Symphonic Band conducted by Anthony L. Dilanni. The Carnegie Mellon University grad has toured in Italy and has local roots as well.

The International Market and Bazaar will offer a variety of clothes, jewelry, books and more for purchase. Most of the items are handmade, and many artisans will be on hand demonstrating their skills.

"There will be activities for the children in the evening. We will also have the international stamp program and kids will also be able to make international crafts."

Of course, food is always a component of the festival and the International Cafes are a big draw. They are staying and are warranting enough attention for their own story in today's Food & Flavor section. Look for kebabs, hummus, curries and more to tease your palate.

Although the festival is shortened, Ms. Hall is excited about what the future holds and the organization is planning big things for the 60th anniversary in 2016. With 33 countries represented this year and Saudi Arabia joining the mix, there are lots of reasons to look at a bright future with more fusion, world and global beat music.

"With an all-volunteer organization, and it is going to take a couple of years to get back to full strength, we just want to say, 'Please excuse our construction while we plan for a bright future.' "

For more information: pghfolkfest.org

Rosa Colucci: 412-263-1634 or rcolucci@post-gazette.com.

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