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  cover story - november 2014

Holiday Folk Fair International

Preserving cultural heritages for 71 years

MILWAUKEE’S HOLIDAY FOLK FAIR International celebrates its 71st anniversary Nov. 21-23, once again providing the opportunity to travel around the globe without airline tickets, hotel reservations or jet lag.

Held in the Wisconsin Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park, 8200 W. Greenfield Ave., the three-day celebration features tantalizing foods, irresistible music, intriguing dance performances and a vast array of exhibits and merchandise.

Produced by the International Institute of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee-based nonprofit social service organization dedicated to racial, cultural and ethnic understanding, the award-winning event is one of the oldest and largest festivals of its kind. Fair-goers have the opportunity to learn the ways in which music, food, dance and art explain a culture’s history and traditions.

This year’s theme is “Celebrate the Culture of the Artisan.” Al Durtka, president of the International Institute, explains that artisans use manual and artistic skills to design items that may be functional or strictly decorative. These artisans are carvers, glass blowers, metal arts workers, potters, stained glass artists, instrument makers, weavers and craft makers.

key cover“Master artisans are those who possess a very high degree of the knowledge and skills required to create items from the cultural traditions of groups, communities and individuals,” says Durtka. “Beginning this year, selected master artisans will become members of the Holiday Folk Fair International Guild of Master Artisans. Their masterpieces will be showcased and their knowledge and skills shared with fairgoers.” Sidonka Wadina, pictured on the KEY cover of this issue, will be honored as a Master Artisan. More than 70 years ago, her grandmother, Johanna Biksadski, first exhibited Slovak folk art at the Wisconsin Gas Co. and was a founding member of the Folk Fair. She preserved her ancestral culture by teaching Wadina straw weaving, egg decorating and folk painting. Wadina has kept the artistry alive by teaching classes throughout the world and inspiring others through her creations.

“The knowledge and skills of our Master Artisans are as varied as the objects created,” says Durtka. “Equally important is teaching the history of the art form and customs associated it. For 71 years, Holiday Folk Fair International has been a keeper of our rich and diverse living heritage, safeguarding the past, honoring the present and embracing the future.”

Special attractions in 2014 include invited international performers and artisans representing Canada, Ecuador, Japan and Ukraine.

Also part of Folk Fair is an exhibit by Sister Cities International featuring the winners and finalists for the organization’s 2014 Young Artists and Authors Showcase, with the theme “Connect Globally. Thrive Locally.” For more than 20 years, the showcase has given youth from around the globe the opportunity to artistically express their vision for a more unified peaceful world.

The popular bonsai exhibit returns, as well as the Kohl’s Color Wheels display and the Wisconsin Woodturners.

At every Folk Fair, the way various cultures prepare their cuisine intrigues visitors. Food booths offer appetizers, main dishes, sandwiches and desserts, all authentically prepared and priced to encourage sampling.

At the Coffee House, coffee or tea, sweet treats and music tempt fest-goers. The Callen Construction Chef’s Stage, presented by Edible Milwaukee Magazine, features local chefs preparing traditional cuisine.

The International Bazaar is the perfect place for holiday shopping with items to fit every budget. Booths decorated to represent the featured country offer items that showcase artistic traditions and handicrafts as well as holiday customs.

key coverOn Heritage Lane, visitors interact with ethnic volunteers to learn about the customs and traditions of many different cultures. “Passports” are available for children, who then have them stamped at the decorated booths.

Regularly scheduled shows at the All Nations Theater feature groups performing traditional music and dance with flair, drama and color. At the International Stage, attention focuses on dance performances by young people. At the Tanzhauz (Music Pavilion), attendees dance and sing along with a variety of musical stylings.

Holiday Folk Fair International hosts a Naturalization Ceremony on Friday at 2:30 p.m. The Education Day/Cultural Awareness Program also is held Friday for fourth- through eighth-grade students from the Greater Milwaukee area. On Sunday, the Around the World 5k Run/Walk benefitting The Salvation Army of Milwaukee County starts at 9 a.m. Phone 414-225-6225 or register online at Also on Sunday, a religious service is held at 10:30 a.m.

Holiday Folk Fair International is open from 2-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.- 7 p.m. Sunday.

Advance tickets are $10 each, with family four-packs for $36, and available for purchase on-line at

Admission at the gate is $12 for adults; $8 for children ages 6 to 12; children under the age of five are admitted at no charge. Those 62 and over are admitted for $10, and all military personnel with a military ID card are admitted free.

For more information, visit, phone the International Institute of Wisconsin at 414-225-6220, or follow Holiday Folk Fair on Facebook.




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