Stage Set for Multicultural America's Cup Festivities

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After getting off to a rocky start in negotiations with the America's Cup Organizing Committee, the African American Museum of Fine Arts of San Diego and the Centro Cultural de la Raza will unveil plans today for Celebrate the Americas, a multicultural America's Cup festival to be held at the America's Cup International Center downtown May 16 and 17.

The event's organizers will join officials from the Port of San Diego and the America's Cup committee, as well as other arts officials, to announce the festival at a 10:30 a.m. press conference today at the International Center next to the Santa Fe Depot.

Festival headliners will be Queen Ida and her Zydeco Band and Latin jazz artists Flora Purim and Airto. The organizers see the event as a much-needed splash of ethnic diversity among the continuing America's Cup festivities.

The free festival at 1101 Pacific Highway will run from noon to 7 p.m. each day. The May 16 program will feature Samahan and Pasacat, two Philippine dance companies; Ballet Folklorico en Aztlan; Teye Santhiosanne, an African music and dance company; Bitoto, an African dance and music troupe, and

Jamallade, a reggae band.

The May 17 lineup will include the band Club Nouveau; San Diego-based Latin group eSOeS; Sol E Mar, a Brazilian band, also from San Diego; Bobby Matos and the Heritage Ensemble, an Afro-Cuban group from Los Angeles; B Natural, a women-led jazz band from San Diego, and Voices in Praise, a gospel choir with members from throughout Southern California, which will bring about 250 singers here.

Organizers hope to attract 5,000 people each day.

Shirley Day Williams, executive director of the African-American museum, first approached the Port of San Diego early last summer seeking funding for a multicultural America's Cup event. She says she was told to get a commitment from the America's Cup Organizing Committee to collaborate with her.

"The first young lady I contacted there was a rather unfortunate human being. She said they were interested in quality control, and I said, 'Oh, how wonderful, our interests are congruent.' "

But the unspoken implication was that Williams' ethnically diverse festival wouldn't be up to snuff. Williams wouldn't name her America's Cup nemesis.

"She finally said to me, 'We're not going to sanction you. When the port calls and asks whether you will be working with us, I shall tell them no, and you will not get your money.' "

Williams claims her efforts were snubbed again last December.

"We were told by the committee that there would be interest in us putting together an art exhibit in February for African-American History Month," she said. "But they never called us back."

Eventually, Williams gained support for a festival from America's Cup Committee Vice President Tom Mitchell, and port commissioners approved $50,000 in port funding for the festival earlier this year.

Mitchell said he has no knowledge of any poor treatment of Williams and her co-organizers by the America's Cup Committee staff. But he said that, at the time Williams first approached the committee, she dealt with a special-events person who has since been laid off because of budget cuts.

"All I know is, when Shirley approached me, I thought it had some merit," Mitchell said. "I said, 'Sure, we can accommodate you, as long as we work together.' "

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