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Little Africa Fest expands to two days

Posted on 27 July 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Parade, booths, artists, and more celebrate diverse culture of many nations

By JAN WILMS
This year’s Little Africa Fest is going to be bigger than ever, expanding for the first time in six years to two days.
A parade starting at Sherburne Ave. and moving forward along Snelling to Hamline Park at 1564 Lafond Ave. will be held on Aug. 3 from 4:30 to 9 p.m. On Aug. 4 the festival will continue at the park, with booths of artwork, performing artists, cultural items and food available. African music will also be showcased.
“We’re trying to create visibility in the district and with businesses,” said Brook Dalu, a business development specialist who runs the Little Africa program. He was present when the festival first began in 2014. It is put on by the African Economic Development Solutions.
“We just kind of let people know that Africa is bigger than what they think; it’s not a country, it’s a continent. And within the countries, there is a lot of diversity.”
He said the importance of the African community around University and Snelling expanded following a study published in 2015 by Dr. Bruce Corrie, then an economics professor at Concordia University. The study reportedly found that Minnesota’s African immigrants have a collective income of at least $1.6 billion, half of which is concentrated in the metro. That includes roughly $200 million in St. Paul and $300 million in Minneapolis
The neighborhood around Snelling and University is rich with African businesses, and the festival celebrates the impact these businesses and their cultures have upon the Twin Cities.
Dalu said all of the cultural districts have more traction because of the Green Line. “Each wanted to create visibility, in spite of construction,” he said. “That’s how the fest came about.”
He said the first fest, held in 2014, “gave us hope.” There were sponsors and a couple of hundred people. This year the fest hopes to draw 10,000 visitors over the two days.

Action and movement
Many of the countries of Africa are represented by the artists participating in the festival, including Korma Aguh-Stuckmayer. She is a performing and visual artist. “I’m kind of in the wellness section and try to get people involved. I try to share my Nigerian culture through dance,” Aguh-Stuckmayer said.
“I try to get people on the dance floor and teach them a few steps. People in Africa have a lot of action and movement.”
Aguh-Stuckmayer admitted, though, that getting people up and dancing can be a challenge. “It might take a minute or two, and I only have a 20-minute program.”
Over 8o artists are expected to participate. A range of art from portraits to landscapes will be on view.
“There are a lot of dancers,” Dalu added. “One fellow performs while he is painting, and he does things upside down.”
A petting zoo is also planned. “The timing is good,” Dalu noted. “A lot of the festivals are over so there is not so much competition.”
He said they are still in the process of talking with MnDOT to work out the logistics of the parade.
“We are going to have some speakers at the fest,” Dalu said. “We have invited both mayors and the governor to attend. We are trying to get exposure.”
Aguh-Stuckmayer said she is part of an advisory group that meets to plan the event. “Having the advisory group is a great idea,” she said.

Family-friendly and free
Aguh-Stuckmayer said the fest is a very important part of the community now, and has so much to offer. “This year I am hoping I get a chance to go around and visit the booths myself,” she said. In the past, as a performing artist, she has not had that much of an opportunity to explore.
“People come and tell you where they are from and what they are doing,” Aguh-Stuckmayer said. “The festival is educational in that way. Singers tell stories through songs, and people just want to have a good time.”
“The festival is open to everyone, it is family-friendly, and it is free,” added Dalu.

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