Chapel Hill put its cultural diversity on display Sunday afternoon in the first-annual Near and Far Street Festival held at 140 West Plaza on Franklin Street.
Performers representing dozens of countries and heritages put on shows, played music and danced between rows of food trucks and cultural exhibits. The event was a collaboration between the town of Chapel Hill, UNC and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.
The festival welcomed families with international games and activities for kids, and residents saw the event advertised over the past week with flags of the world hanging from utility poles all down Franklin Street.
“Near and Far is a local celebration of global culture in our community,” said Meg McGurk, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. “We recognize that college towns inherently have a kind of global community, and we want to engage with that community and learn as much as we can from one another.”
UNC contributed to the event with representation from international student groups as well as the University’s wide array of global programs.
Charanga Carolina, the only University-based Cuban music ensemble in North Carolina performed upbeat music fueled by Latin percussion, violins and piano.
Other student groups attended the event as interactive exhibitors, who worked from booths to showcase their cultural art. Carolina Capoeira, Carolina Indian Circle, Carolina Irish Dance Association and UNC Kasama all provided uniquely themed activities for festival visitors.
Many of the groups who presented on Sunday afternoon were not affiliated with the University, but instead represented the cultural depth of Orange County and beyond.
Pline Mounzeo, a native of the Republic of the Congo and a current resident of Cary, shared traditional Congolese drum music, infused with sounds that have inspired him from his travels in Europe and North America. The United Tae Kwon Do Academy, based in Winston-Salem with locations in Durham and Chapel Hill, allowed kids to practice their martial arts and show off impressive routines at their exhibit.
“I’m so proud of our staff, our Downtown Partnership, our street performers, our vendors and everyone who came together to make this happen,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said at the event. “We hope this will be the first of many Near and Far festivals hosted by Chapel Hill.”
Visitors to the event were kept busy by the festival’s fast pace, each performance moving quickly on the heels of the last. A total of 21 different groups participated in the Near and Far festival, with five stage performances and 16 interactive exhibitors.
“It’s a little overwhelming, there’s almost too many things to do,” said Will Smith, a first-year student and festival attendee.
Smith said he intended to stop by for just a few minutes but ended up spending an hour watching the performances and visiting the booths.
“I’m really impressed by how big this ended up being," Smith said. "I’ll definitely come back if they end up doing this again.”
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