By Mary McLean, Staff Writer
Published in print Oct.1, 2014
What happens when you cross a festival celebrating cultures across the world and in Greensboro with a concert encouraging students and young people to vote? You get a great night in downtown Greensboro.
Despite unfriendly weather and a last minute location change, this is exactly the organizations of Church World Service, Face to Face, and SynerG managed to do on the evening of September 24th.
In the past, the Mosaic festival has been a once a year event organized by Church World Service (CWS) that celebrates the refugee population of Greensboro and seeks to make it feel a little more like home. People are encouraged to share their culture through food, dance, music and crafts.
“It’s a giant food and music and cultural festival where these people can bring in things from all over the world,” said Donovan McKnight, an employee of Face to Face, an organization that puts on a yearly event called Show of Hands, which enables young people to register to vote.
“So people can come taste this food, buy crafts and just get better acquainted with the cultures that make up Greensboro. But it isn’t only about sharing culture. It’s about getting involved in the city as a whole.”
This cornucopia of cultures was incredibly evident in the variety of delicious food and amazing wares the festival presented.
Everything from Vietnamese macaroons to Ethiopian meats to handcrafted jewelry was there and available for sale.
And while many of the other festivals held in Greensboro offer food trucks as a dinner option, according to the website, Mosaic’s organizers say that they know “nothing is the same as a home cooked meal.”
This also means the profits benefit refugee families directly, with only 10% being donated to Church World Service and the rest being retained by the cooks themselves.
It was very fortunate that no one at the festival was relying on food trucks, because they would have had a remarkably difficult time squeezing into Greene Street Club.
Yes, the venue that most students know for its college night Thursday’s and wild paint parties ended up as the final location of the festival due to rain.
“Both Mosaic festival and Show of Hands have been outdoor events in the past and its really hard to work in a rain plan,” explained McKnight. “So you basically have three choices: cancel, move inside or move to another date.”
Moving the date wasn’t possible because the show featured touring artists, but everyone had worked too hard to be willing to cancel.
“After waiting all day for the rain to subside we had to make a split second decision,” said McKnight. “The good thing was that so many wonderful people who work with us and so many people have great connections that we were able to find a venue.”
Luckily, the event originally intended for the Railyard, a space on South Elm behind the storefronts, wasn’t totally rained out.
Greene Street provided an interesting, intimate concert vibe for the talented performers who played at the festival. While some of the sets were much shorter due to rain delays, the audience was still jamming the whole way through. Opening was Tow3rs, a group of electric pop musicians from Raleigh. Then came Well$ a rapper who originated in Charlotte, and Yana, a pop singer from Malaysia who is gaining national attention for her impressive voice.
In the past, the Mosaic festival has typically featured traditional musical acts from around the world.
But Face to Face often seeks out contemporary artists to attract more young people to register to vote.
“We actually combined interests and got international artists who play contemporary hit music,” explained McKnight.
It may not be apparent at first glance, but Tow3rs has a parent from Mexico, and Well$ is a first generation American whose parents are from the Democratic of Republic of the Congo.
“It’s part of an integration effort as well,” said McKnight. “They are bringing these refugees in from all over the world who have had to leave their homes for many different reasons.”
This leaves many feeling lost, uprooted, and upset. “Once they get here they struggle to get integrated and struggle to make Greensboro feel like a home.”
At the end of the night, the Mosaic festival truly was a cross section of the unique population that makes up Greensboro.