The annual Kalamazoo Russian Festival is returning to Western Michigan University to celebrate its 18th year.
The Russian Festival is an all day event featuring Russian cuisine, Russian tea service and souvenir shopping. The festival will also hold a combination of programs featuring musicians, dancing and a variety of lectures.
According to Judith Rypma, the vice president of the Kalamazoo Russian Culture Association (KRCA) and an English professor at WMU, the festival was initially organized during the early days after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when the need for closer ties between the United States and the new Russian Federation seemed more important than ever.
“Now, in a time of fresh disagreements between the governments of the two nations, it remains critical that our peoples share each other’s cultures and friendship,” Rypma said.
Rypma said that the festival began as an all-volunteer event and a non-profit venture, with the added goal of raising money for needy causes in Kalamazoo’s partnership city: Pushkin, Russia.
This year’s festival is co-sponsored by the KRCA and WMU’s English and Theatre departments. It will feature a number of Russian and Russian-related performances and speakers.
One of the events will be hosted by Dr. Patty Rice, world-renowned amber expert. Rice will present a talk on the mysteries of amber, followed by a reading by Rypma from her new poetry book, “Looking for the Amber Room.” There will also be a demonstration and hands-on workshop devoted to making the famous pysanki decorated eggs at the festival.
According to Rypma, two years ago, the festival was placed under the control of the KRCA. The KRCA hosts multiple other local events during the year that bring together Russians and Americans from both the community and abroad. With the help of this move, the festival has now grown to be the largest of its kind in the United States. It now attracts approximately 1,000 visitors and volunteers each year from throughout the Midwest and even Russia. It also brings groups of college students from campuses such as Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, and Bowling Green State University.
“Many members of the local Russian, as well as Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian community, have participated in the festival throughout the years,” Rypma said. “We also have a substantial number of performers, lecturers, vendors and volunteers who are of Russian descent.”
The Russian Festival began 18 years ago in a back yard. It started as an informal way of bringing people together from Russia and the United States. By the next year, the event moved to the campus of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where it quickly expanded. The festival stayed at the KVCC campus until about 10 years ago, when it found a permanent home at WMU.
As the festival began to grow, an extra day was added to host more featured speakers. Because of this growth, the KRCA and the WMU English Department will co-sponsor an all-day lecture series. Speakers will include faculty from WMU, the University of Michigan, Purdue University, and Grand Valley State University, who will speak on the diversity of Russian literature, art, politics and film. Admission is free and refreshments will be served. This lecture series will be held on November 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in 1048 Brown Hall.
The Kalamazoo Russian Festival will be on Nov. 16, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Fetzer Center. The ticket prices are $10 for adults, $6 for students with their Bronco ID. and $2 for children 12 years old and younger. Family passes can be purchased for $20.
“We work on the festival year round to ensure we offer the most interesting combination of events and entertainment,” Rypma said. “But the best thing is seeing so many people get together in a way that would’ve been nearly impossible a few decades ago. It’s so exciting now to be a part of something that brings together people who were once enemies.”
To see the full event schedule, visit their website.