Anderson International Festival: Digging Deep, One Culture at a Time

The term “international festival” may conjure up a weekend fair with a broad sampling of music, food, and art from all over the world—but that’s not what you’ll get with the Anderson International Festival. Instead of breadth, they go for depth, diving into the culture of just one country for nearly two months every other year, with events sponsored by various organizations, from the library to restaurants to museums.

This year, the featured country is Spain, and events range from a “running of the bulls” puppet craft session for kids at the Anderson County Museum to Father Jack Hardaway’s presentation on his Camino del Santo pilgrimage at Grace Episcopal Church to “Paint like Picasso” events for adults (with Spanish wine and appetizers) and children (both at Anderson Arts Center).

A biannual event, the festival was started in 2006 with a celebration of Russia, followed by a Celtic celebration in 2008, an exploration of West Africa in 2010, and France, Japan, and Italy in 2012, 2014, and 2016, respectively.

This year’s festival opened on January 12 with a kick-off event called “Spain Conexiones de Arte” at the Anderson Arts Center, and on Friday the 19th, the Anderson County Museum’s opening event kicked off their exhibit, “Los Enlaces: Linking Spain to South Carolina.” That exhibit features artwork from the personal collection of Robin and David Locke from their travels to Spain.

Kimberly Spears , economic director for the city of Anderson, and former director of the Anderson Arts Center, is the president of the festival this year. Talking about the collaborative nature of the festival, with several organizations hosting events, she says, “It’s a great festival in terms of getting a group of organizations to collaborate under one theme but also letting each organization do what they’re really good at.”

From that standpoint, it means that residents and visitors to the festival can choose the events that interest them—“You can do as much or as little as you want to do,” Spears says. The organizations that participate are varied, including performing and visual arts, libraries, restaurants, and even churches, so there’s something for everyone. Spears says she’s particularly looking forward to hearing Father Hardaway’s lecture on the Camino del Santo pilgrimage, getting the personal perspective of someone who has traveled to Spain.

When the first festival was held, Spears says, “I thought it was going to be a stretch, but it was a really great festival. We were just dipping our toe into the water, saying, hey, are we ready for this? Can we pull this off? But it couldn’t have gone any better.”

That first festival was built around a friendship that was struck up between two Anderson women who had traveled to Russia and a Russian musician they met in their travels. He came to Anderson to perform, and the idea was born to have different organizations in Anderson pool their resources and celebrate the Russian culture from various perspectives. A Russian artist from Asheville was brought in for an exhibit, Russian dancers came from Atlanta, there were vodka tastings, and a host of other Russian-themed events.

“It was a big success, but it also proved to us that, for any one organization to try to do it, it’s a lot of work. We’re all medium to small organizations, and nobody could do that, but by coming together and collaborating, we have a lot of resources and talent,” Spears says.

Spears sees the strength of the festival as raising awareness of what an international world we live in, with the internet, global events, and international companies here in the Upstate—not to mention the international students and faculty at Clemson and Anderson University. Those things give a support structure to the event and give the community a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in a different culture.

“It’s a great festival because it starts in January and goes through February, when the months are kind of dull,” she says. “So you can fight that off and come out to the events. Most of the programs are free to the public, and the ones that aren’t free are ones where you get a meal or something you would ordinarily pay for.”

Photos courtesy of Anderson International Festival.

Article by Sharon Purvis