Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) is hosting its very first fundraiser and, as could be expected, it’s a celebration of diversity that will incorporate a number of educational elements, and just plain fun. The Cultural Festival on Friday evening at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School will treat guests to a whirlwind global tour featuring food, crafts, ethnic gifts, music, dance, and performances.
The original plans for an inaugural fundraiser this past summer had to be scrapped because some of the speakers were unavailable for a proposed “one day university.”
“We decided to postpone, and we realized it made more sense to do it now since ACE MV is for the year-round community,” says Lynn Ditchfield, founder and director of ACE MV. The festival was timed to follow Ethnic Studies Week, a nationally coordinated week of actions to defend ethnic studies and academic freedom, which was inspired by two recent events: the banning of ethnic studies in K-12 schools in Arizona and a textbook alteration proposal by the Texas Board of Education.
A committee of five organizers have reached out to the community and beyond to pull together a multicultural sampler. The evening’s festivities begin in the cafeteria, where an ethnic food court will feature vendors offering global dishes and treats. Representing various regional cuisines will be Falmouth’s The Golden Swan Indian restaurant, Tropical Bakery offering Brazilian specialties, Sai Mai Thai Restaurant, Falmouth’s Peking Palace, chef Marvin Jones, who is currently teaching a tapas class for ACE MV, and others.
A variety of performers will provide the dinner hour entertainment. Saskia and David Vanderhoop, along with advanced students in their ACE MV class, will demonstrate salsa dancing. Members of the Brazilian community will give demonstrations of jiu-jitsu and Capoeira, a choreographed fight/dance discipline.
Simultaneously, a cultural fair will be in the hallway outside of the cafeteria where vendors will be selling a variety of ethnic crafts and artwork. Shoppers can choose from native Wampanoag jewelry, Haitian art, Irish pottery, Kenyan products, Peruvian crafts, Chinese Calligraphy, and Huichol art from Mexico.
Ms. Ditchfield will also offer Zapotec Bean Readings, a fortune-telling practice that she learned while in Mexico in the 1970s. There will also be silent auction items on display for bidding.
Displays by the NAACP, the high school’s Irish history class, Brazilian students, the African American Heritage Trail, and others will further help guests immerse themselves in the multicultural experience.
At 7:30 pm is a widely varied program of entertainment, featuring MC Sterling Bishop of R&B Entertainment in the Performing Arts Center. Hear from The Black Brook Singers of the Wampanoag Tribe on drums and vocals; and Leandro and Gunga, the musicians who accompany the local Capoeira group. Island musicians Jemima James and Dan Waters will play a set of original tunes. Ms. James is a veteran of the early American folk music scene of Greenwich Village and elsewhere. Mr. Waters, who was born and raised in Brazil, will also perform a traditional song from his childhood. Local favorite Nina Violet will represent a music trend that flourishes on the Island – the new era of singer/songwriters with roots in American folk music.
A short film, “Nightmares and Dreams: Immigrant Voices” will introduce some students of an ACE MV class that teaches English conversation through improvisational theater games. The participants talk about their struggle to integrate themselves in another society. The film also includes snippets from a performance piece that the class created collaboratively.
Susan Klein and Alan Brigish will share stories and a slide show of pictures from their joint venture, the book “Martha’s Vineyard — Now and Zen.” Renowned storyteller Ms. Klein has paired essays on Island life with Mr. Brigish’s beautifully illustrative photos spanning many decades in a book described as an exploration of communities, transitions, and transformations. “I think we forget it sometimes but, as an island, we have a distinct culture of our own and Susan presents that beautifully,” Ms. Ditchfield says.
Not only is much of ACE MV’s curriculum represented in the festival (which is, in a large part intended to introduce the program to the uninitiated) but the festival theme corresponds with Ms. Ditchfield’s goals as director. “What we pride ourselves in is celebrating cultures and mixing generations and cultures,” she says. “I feel like we have a really wonderful community in terms of being a welcoming community.”
However, in her role as a lifelong teacher she says, “I have experienced some really harsh attitudes. I don’t even want to call it racism or bigotry. It’s ignorance.” Addressing that ignorance is something that she, as an educator, sees as a responsibility. “Culture goes very deep in education. Part of our mission is to mix up those cultures.”
And a mixed bag mosaic is exactly what the festival should prove to be. India Rose of the fundraising committee comments that the outreach effort was aided by the willingness of community members and groups to get involved. She notes that they received many suggestions during the planning stages and says, “Whatever we could intertwine, we wanted to include.” There are a few additional participants who were not confirmed as of press time.
Ms. Rose emphasizes that the organizers of ACE MV hopes that the first fundraiser will be a success, particularly as an awareness raiser. “Most important is recognition of our organization. We want to get ACE out there to let people know about us and encourage suggestions that people may have as to what classes they would like us to offer.
“Hopefully people leaving there will have a little of a wow factor as far as things they haven’t experienced before.”
ACE MV Cultural Festival, Friday, 6–9 pm, M.V. Regional High School, Oak Bluffs. $15; free for children under 12. For more information, visit acemv.org or call 508-693-1033 ext. 240.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.