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Multicultural festival bridges Calgary arts and community

Calgary artist Jenna Rodgers says art offers a unique window into our multicultural city because no matter where you’re from, how you express yourself tells a story.

That’s one of the driving forces behind this weekend’s Building Bridges Through Arts: Pan-Asian and Pan-Canadian Art Experience at Arts Commons.

The free, family-friendly event on July 28 from 12 to 5 p.m. is a collaboration between the Asian Heritage Foundation and Calgary Arts Development Authority.

Rodgers, also a board member with the Asian Heritage Foundation, said the idea was initially supposed to coincide with Asian Heritage month in May. They didn’t get their grant until May 1, so it made it tough to turn around an event before July.

Now they’ve brought together a variety of ethnic arts performances and displays; Cantonese Opera, Korean drumming and dancing, dancing troupes from Calgary’s Indonesian, Sri Lankan and Vietnamese communities and a fashion show of Filipino garments.

“The idea of the event was to call attention to the fact that arts and culture are not separate,” Rodgers said.

The group wanted to reach out to the broader base of Calgarians who have not experienced art from other cultures.

“For generations people have connected with the arts. The way we express ourselves is a type of storytelling,” Rodgers said.

“It’s a display of what we have to offer.”

More than that, Rodgers said, it was about helping minorities in the city realizes that they can enjoy and participate in the arts.

She pointed at the 2016 Calgary census that showed roughly one-third of citizens self-recognized as a visible minority, but in a recent arts survey that number was one in seven.

“It’s clear to see that what we consider our professional arts sector doesn’t include a lot of people who look like me,” said Rodgers, who identifies as mixed race as she is part Chinese.

“If we don’t see ourselves on stages, then it’s hard to make an argument that it’s a viable career for young people.

“Building that bridge becomes incredibly important to say, ‘You’re welcome here and please engage with our artistic communities.’”

For more information on the event, visit asianheritagecalgary.com.