In its 33rd year, Ethnic Enrichment Festival just keeps growing

When Dick Horvatic got involved with Kansas City’s Ethnic Enrichment Festival 25 years ago, the event was still young.

Just 15 to 20 countries were represented, and the festival was at the more modest location of Washington Park.

At this weekend’s 33rd annual festival, things will have quite a different look.

Working in partnership with the Kansas City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Ethnic Enrichment Commission has steadily increased the size of the event, now held at Swope Park.

Roughly 60 countries will be represented this year, including a first-ever booth from Egypt. After drawing more than 35,000 people last year, festival organizers hope for a similar turnout this time around.

“If I could get 35 to 40,000 visitors, that would be good,” says Horvatic, now the festival director. “But I’d like more.”

The event, which opens Friday and runs through Sunday, has developed into arguably the area’s largest celebration of various cultures and traditions.

Each country will operate a booth, many of which will sell food, crafts and jewelry, and a beer garden will serve domestic and imported beer. There’s plenty of children-friendly entertainment, too, from face painting to crafts.

Stage entertainment includes an assortment of culture-specific music and dance. From 4 to 5 p.m. Saturday, there’s a “Parade of Flags” in which representatives from all participating countries will walk across the venue’s main stage to music.

And at 2 p.m. on Sunday, there’s an ethnic fashion show.

“We have belly dancers, Greek dancers, American Indians,” Horvatic says.

The Ethnic Enrichment Commission has been preparing for this year’s event since January, and over the past two weeks things have grown even more intense.

Horvatic and Melinda Minks, who coordinates special projects for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, have spent hours each day at Swope Park, overseeing the festival’s construction and the assembling of booths.

“Each year it gets a little better,” Minks says. “It gets good enough that we wonder what we’re missing. When things go so smoothly, you start to think, ‘What have I missed?’ ”

And while the heat has certainly made outdoor activities a little sticky this summer, representatives are confident that folks will fill the park regardless of the climate.

“We operate rain or shine,” Minks says. “We’ve had rain, we’ve had shine. In the past 32 years, we’ve had one weekend that had nothing but rain and still had people come out, and about eight years ago, it was really hot like it is this summer, and we still had people come out.”