Austen Diamond

Living Traditions

Swirling colors, wafts of exotic spices, and the sounds and textures of authentic and traditional folk and ethnic arts — Washington Square at the Salt Lake City & County Building dramatically transforms during one special weekend every spring.

Artists, volunteers and performers — who are Ecuadorian, Samoan, Mexican, Polish, Greek, and more — bring the Living Traditions Festival to life. Presented by the Salt Lake City Arts Council, this 32-year-old festival has played host to the variety of cultures represented in Utah.

In a community not typically regarded as ethnically diverse, in terms of overall population, Living Traditions has shown, year after year, there is certainly is a wide variety of cultures well represented in the Beehive State. Many festival-goers are surprised by the vibrancy and diversity that comes from shared community space with all of the disparate cultures calling Utah home. There’s festive costumes, traditional songs, soaring dances, culinary staples, and so much more.

Nonprofit groups and member clubs representing many cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities sell delicious fare at the Food Market; there are more than 20 vendors each year. Snack on Bosnian cevapi, East African stew, Polish sausages, or Tibetan momos, to name just a few of the delightful items for sale. Over at the Craft Market, purveyors sell souvenirs and home goods, as well as answer questions about traditional arts and crafts, such as Eastern European egg decoration or Navajo basket-weaving. These are exceptional examples of traditional artistry, some of which are even created on-site by master artisans.

The event's hallmark, however, is the selection of performing artists. More than 70 performances are presented on the festival's three stages. It’s the embodiment of religious celebration and the actualization of cultural heritage. Some examples of the myriad performers include Bulgarka (Bulgarian Dance), Mountain West (Highland Dancers Scottish Music), Malialole and Island Harmony (Polynesian Music & Dance), and Intertribal Pow Wow (Native American Music & Dance).

Beyond the local manifestations of these cultures, the Living Traditions Festival books visiting performing artists and musicians. Incredible acts from all over the world have played on the Living Traditions stage — artists such as Malian singer Vieux Farka Touré, Nigerian guitarist Bombino and Chilean MC Ana Tijoux in recent years.

It all patchworks together quite nicely over three days every year for the best way to celebrate of cultural differences in the state.

Living Traditions Festival is held on the lawns of Washington Square at the Salt Lake City & County Building (450 S. 200 East). 

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