When there were people in Benicia’s community expressing interest in expanding the town’s diversity platforms, Neema Hekmat got to brainstorming and, with the help of others, settled on a diversity festival.
“There was a need to build bridges in our community—how is that best possible?” says Hekmat, who acts as a manager/event coordinator for the festival. “Arts and music are the common languages of love and a great way to build that understanding based on shared values. I was introduced to Bart Sullivan, director of Benicia Performing Arts, who was very interested in this idea. BPA are the hosts of this program and series; they’ve been very instrumental in making it all happen.”
This free, family-friendly event will take place outdoors from 11:00 am-5:00 pm on Saturday, April 22.
This coincides with Earth Day, which will be honored at the festival as well. There’s no need to secure tickets; just show up whenever it’s convenient for you. Head to the Benicia Marina Pavilion (which is near Benicia Yacht Club; the event is not on the First Street green). Food will also be available to purchase.
For Hekmat, this journey is bigger than this one day.
“It’s not just about the festival,” he says. “From sponsors, artists and volunteers to all of the other people taking interest—that’s the benefit of it. A community is being formed around this festival, circles around core organizers are growing, our network expansion is increasing. It’s an important output of this effort.”
Check things out for yourself—and get excited for what’s (hopefully) to come in the future.
While over 300 attendees were present at the first festival in 2022 and over 80 artists participated (which they’re hoping to match or exceed this year), Hekmat and team would love to see this event grow.
“If we have more sponsors and more bandwidth, we’d love to make this a 2-day festival,” says Hekmat. “We have more artists than bandwidth at the moment and would love to accommodate more!”
Thank you to Starbucks, Pacifica Pizza, the City of Benicia, and the MNGL Fund for providing donations and grants. For those who are interested in sponsoring or donating to this event, please feel free to reach out to Neema directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a small sampling of the music and dance performances attendees can look forward to this year:
Voena choir: Our very own award-winning, international children’s choir will be singing.
Bunyip: This 3-piece collaboration, composed of drummer Hassan “Hot Sauce” Hurd, Australian guitarist Chris Robinson, and Garman/Liberian bassist Kai Eckhardt, is Benicia-based. The group is named after the Bunyip, an animal in Australian aboriginal mythology. Indian and African rhythms are often present in their music, which contains influences of jazz, rock, and funk.
Hawaiian Dance led by Vanessa Boscia: Two local groups, Hālau Ka Waikahe Lani Mālie & Hālau Kahulaliwai Brentwood, will be performing Hawaiian dances.
Ramana Vieira: Contemporary-meets-traditional with the performance this Portuguese musical artist has in store. Fun fact: Benicia has deep Portuguese roots dating back to settlers in the 19th century.
Chinese ensemble: Bay Area artists of multiple generations will be performing traditional chinese entertainment, both through dance and music. Margaret Liang is the director.
Eamonn Flynn: Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Eamonn Flynn has composed and produced music for many TV shows and films. Flynn now resides in San Francisco. His live show, Dublinesque, will be featured at the festival.
Ballet Afsaneh: This dance group local to the Bay Area specializes in Central Asian dance. Folk and traditional dance from Afghanistan will be performed. There will also be an opportunity for audience participation—attendees can learn Afghan movements.
Andre Thierry: Richmond, CA resident Andre Thierry brings “accordion soul” to the festival. His performance promises southern Louisiana creole flair.