The unlikely pairing of the arts organization and cultural celebration finds success

Want to take in a symphony orchestra performance? CAPA — the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts — has you covered. Want to catch your favorite comedian on tour? CAPA probably has him or her booked. Want to attend a massive, outdoor, two-day cultural festival? Well, that certainly seemed out of CAPA's wheelhouse in 2009, when the arts organization took over production of Festival Latino.

“When we got into it the first year, we were like, ‘Wow, this is so foreign to us because we run eight theaters [and] everything's indoors,'” said Festival Coordinator and Programming Director Rich Corsi.

Nevertheless, he was excited to take on the challenge when city budget cuts threatened the festival's existence.

“The last thing you want to do is have it go away,” Corsi said. “It was very helpful to have someone step in and just hit the ground running with it.”

The growth of the festival, which will bring Latin-American food, music, dance, visual arts and more to Genoa Park on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 12 and 13, has been extensive. It started as a five-hour pilot project in 1996 and evolved into a two-day, nighttime-only event the next June. Now the festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. CAPA shifted the event later in the summer to have less competition from other festivals, and changed the time to make it more accessible.

“We thought it would be super nice to have a family-oriented festival,” Corsi said of the event, which also features a children's area — this year, COSI will be on-hand with science demonstrations — and a health and wellness area, also added by CAPA.

“We could [have] easily just set up six more food vendors … but there are some things like this that are near and dear to our heart,” Corsi said of the free, on-site health screenings.

The festival now draws about 10 times the size of its audience of 20,000 in 2009, and international Latin artists have taken notice.

“The first year we did it, our main artists were Tiempo Libre and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra,” Corsi said. “The headliners have just grown … and we actually have artists that [ask] to perform at this festival.” Hitting the Nationwide Fiesta Stage this year are Charlie Cruz, Bachata Heightz, Tono Rosario and Tito Nieves, among others.

“Sometimes, I may get the programming [done] and someone says, ‘Hey, there are no Mexican artists,'” said Corsi, who relies on a steering committee, food vendors and others in his network to assist with cultural authenticity. But sometimes representation is hampered by artist availability, Corsi said.

“I do think they have a very good grasp on representing as many [cultures] as they can,” said artist and CCAD alum Abraham Cordova, who has provided everything from tattoo services to painted candy skulls as a festival participant for five years. This year he will sell T-shirts and prints featuring Latin folk art.

“I find it important to bring my Chicano background into the Latino Fest,” he said.

Cordova cites the food as a standout attraction at the event. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it's Mexican food.' Well, not every Spanish-speaking culture has burritos and tacos. … They have a lot of unique food, so you can experience that,” he said.

Cordova also touted the music and dancing. “It's a party all the time … [and] it's just a fun place to walk around.”