Orange County is home to an increasingly diverse community of people who enrich each others’ lives with different cultures and languages.
In its first year, FusionFest had around 8,000 people enjoying a weekend filled with music, dance, art, literature, fashion, culture, and fun! We had performers, vendors and volunteers from more than 100 heritages sharing their talents throughout the festival.
FusionFest was recognized as a project that positively impacts the community and received the “Award of Excellence” at the Golden Brick Awards hosted by the Downtown Orlando Partnership.
Under the fiscal sponsorship of the Downtown Arts District and support from Orange County Government, the Orlando Downtown Development Board, the Dr. Phillips Center of Performing Arts, and a growing grassroots movement, FusionFest continues to advance and celebrate diversity, inclusion and collaboration in Central Florida.
It all began when Sam Roberts of the Caribbean Cultural Association and Yves Bouele of the African Leaders Council approached Terry Olson about creating some kind of international event. While there are dozens of festivals centered around one heritage or another in our community, we thought, What if we all came together at the same time?
In November of 2016, about 40 people from various heritages gathered to brainstorm the best way to share our heritages. In the following month, a Steering Committee began to take shape and has been meeting monthly ever since.
Some of the early stepping stones to the festival were bimonthly “Gathering of Nations” events with a few people from every heritage we could find in Central Florida (currently we have more than 140 heritages identified). Each of the Gatherings was focused on a particular aspect of culture ̶ Food, Dance, Music, Clothing, Games, Literature. These explorations helped us envision what a “fusion” festival would look like – a place where we honored our heritages while celebrating how we influence each other as we shape our own unique identity as Central Floridians.
AFRICA: Yves Bouele (Cameroon), Gisele Mayeur (Congo) & Hans-Peter Nkansah (Ghana)
ASIA-EAST: Hefang Lin (China) & Rangsook Yoon (South Korea)
ASIA–SOUTH: Jasbir Metha (India) & Khalid Muneer (Pakistan) & Mahdi Mirhosseini (Iran)
CARIBBEAN: Sam Roberts & Shawn Welcome (Guyana)
EUROPE: Renata Glebocki (Poland), Bob Kovacevich (Montenegro) & Dave Plotkin (Wales)
LATIN AMERICA: Tisse Mallon (Mexico), Carol Palacio (Colombia) & Laiz Rodrigues (Brazil)
MIDEAST & NORTHERN AFRICA: Safaa Barakat (Morocco) & Idit Lotringer (Israel)
NORTH AMERICA: Terry Olson (US–Alaska), Nicole Higgins (US-African-American) Chris Leggett (Canada), K Charles Phillips (US-New Mexico) & Mark Terry (US-Florida)
NORTHERN EURASIA: Snejanna Dunn (Russia)
OCEANIA & PACIFIC ISLANDS: Tee Buchin (Tahiti) & Ha’Ani Hogan (Guam)
CITY OF ORLANDO: Luis Martinez (Puerto Rico), Multicultural Affairs Director to Mayor Dyer
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA: Mark Hartman (Germany), Director, International Recruitment and Partnerships at UCF Global