I once worked for a lady with a knack for turning problems into potential miracles just by using her wits.
When lousy situations would befall us, she would switch into optimism overdrive, rhapsodizing about "wonn-derful opportunities" and launching a take-no-prisoners schmooze until the adversaries were practically eating out of her hand.
More often than not, her strategic sunniness would catch on and warring parties would find themselves working together toward a common goal.
I don't know where she is now, but this woman's spirit lives on in Long Beach, where a Cambodian community activist (Sandy Arun San-Blankenship) and a Latino event planner (Florinda Mintz) are working hand in hand with minority leaders and arts groups on an event they hope will ease interracial tensions by highlighting this downtown area's diverse cultures. The second annual Anaheim Street International Festival and Expo--being held Saturday in MacArthur Park on Anaheim Street--kicks off "October Is Arts Month '94" in Long Beach, which includes about 70 exhibits, performances and special events at sites citywide. (See page 17 for a list of family-oriented "October Is Arts Month" programs.) Admission is free.
San-Blankenship and Mintz describe their task in surprisingly direct terms. They readily discuss the Anaheim Street corridor's history of racial tensions; even in their press releases they describe it as "an area frequently touched by poverty, crime, racial tension and fear."
But that situation can change with the help of community events like this, said San-Blankenship, who headed a festival planning committee with members of the local Cambodian, Latino, black and white communities.
"Yes, there have been problems here, but we feel that we can bring people together by promoting our cultures and a respect for our diversity," she said. "We can learn to respect the differences and the similarities between us." Public events such as this also help visi tors appreciate the richness of such a diverse community, she added.
Progress will be slow, but it is being made, San-Blankenship said, adding that the atmosphere at last year's inaugural festival was peaceful. She assures visitors that this year's will be safe and enjoyable for families as well. Guests are welcome to join festival participants and community leaders in a Unity Walk into the park at 10 a.m.; ethnic dress is encouraged. Expected to take part in the walk are Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Aided by funding from the city's nonprofit Public Corp. for the Arts and private sponsors, this year's International Festival is larger and more ambitious, the women said. Headline entertainment has been brought in from surrounding areas, including several noted Orange County groups such as Mariachi Sol de Mexico led by Jose L. Hernandez (Hernandez is the musical director of the Mariachi USA Festival at the Hollywood Bowl), Alvin Hayes Jr. & his Jazz Band and the Yuko Maruyama jazz quartet.
Dance groups include the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Los Angeles Dance Ensemble, the Antonia Rojas Dance Theater, the Afrikan Study Group (drums and dancing) and Ballet Folclorico do Brasil, a group that Mintz says is best known for its blending of traditional African Brazilian dance with contemporary music.
The performances begin at 11 a.m. and continue nonstop until 7 p.m. There will also be a children's area with hands-on activities and a small stage with continuous international performances from 12:30 to 4:45 p.m.
Meanwhile, another Long Beach community festival takes place through Sunday in the East Village section of downtown. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. near 1st Street and Linden Avenue, the Celebration of the Arts: A Sunday in the East Village will feature arts and crafts booths showcasing the works of local artists and international foods. Local bands will perform swing, gospel, rock and other music.
Children can take part in art projects including painting a mural that will remain on view for a year, according to event spokesman Phil Appleby.
Sunday's event has no agenda other than to showcase the range of artistic talent in the East Village, a downtown district that residents, business owners and city leaders hope to develop as Long Beach's cultural hub.
"Our real goal is to create an environment that is friendly to artists and to visitors," Appleby said.
* What: Celebration of the Arts: A Sunday in the East Village.
* When: Sunday, Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Where: East Village section of downtown Long Beach; most events are held near 1st Street and Linden Avenue.
* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to the Long Beach (710) Freeway and go south. The freeway turns into Shoreline Drive. From Shoreline, take a left onto 1st Street. The festival is few blocks down.
* Wherewithal: Admission is free.
* Where to call: (310) 432-3322.
MORE KID STUFF
IN COSTA MESA: STUDENT 'AIDA'
Opera Pacific's Youth Night program debuts Friday, Sept. 30, with a dress rehearsal of Verdi's "Aida" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive. Tickets for students in grades 6 to 12 are $8; adults $18. Call (714) 474-4488, Ext. 318.
IN IRVINE: HARVEST FESTIVAL
From Friday, Sept. 30, to Sunday, Oct. 2, this annual community get-together at Barranca Parkway and Harvard Avenue features carnival rides, live music, children's performances and contests. Admission is $5, but discounts are available with advance purchase. (714) 552-7336.
IN COSTA MESA: 'HANSEL AND GRETEL'
Fifty local children will join professional actors from the Montana-based touring company the Missoula Children's Theatre in a quirky update of this Brothers Grimm classic, Saturday, Oct. 1, at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road. Tickets are $6 to $11. Call (714) 432-5880.
There are about 70 different events and exhibitions going on next month in Long Beach under the Arts Month umbrella, but unless your child is truly exceptional (sure, sure, that's what we all say . . . ), many of these programs are better suited to adults.
Not that families have been overlooked. In addition to this weekend's Anaheim Street and East Village festivals, there are a number of events designed with children in mind. (For a complete list of Arts Month activities; call the Public Corporation for the Arts at (310) 983-3814).
For some of the kid-friendly activities, besides the two aforementioned festivals, that await next month up the 405, read on:
* Thursday, Oct. 13
Kreative Kids art exhibition
ARK Studio and Gallery, 2218 E. 4th St.
Continues through Oct. 31, call for hours
* Saturday, Oct. 15, and Sunday, Oct. 16
"Strada di Pitture" street-painting festival
2nd Street between Livingston Drive and Bayshore Avenue
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days
Local artists create street paintings on Belmont Shore's sidewalks on Saturday; works remain on view Sunday. At noon on Saturday, the Long Beach Children's Museum hosts a free workshop at 5200 E. 2nd St. (310) 434-3066
* Friday, Oct. 21
"Sea the Difference" parade
Ocean Boulevard from Alamitos Street to Pine Avenue
Begins at noon, lasts about an hour.
Budweiser Clydesdales, marching band, floats and comedy acts lead by grand marshal John Naber, an Olympic gold medal swimmer. (310) 436-3645
* Friday, Oct. 21 through Sunday, Oct. 23
Whitecaps Seaside Festival
Shoreline Village, Shoreline Drive at Pine Avenue
Friday, 6 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.;
Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Admission is free, but rides cost.
Carnival rides, a sand-castle building contest, children's crafts and story-telling, a petting zoo, fireworks and live music. Boat parade along Queen's Way Bay at noon, Sunday. (310) 436-3645.
* Thursday, Oct. 27; Saturday, Oct. 29, and Sunday, Oct. 30
"The Scarlet Letter"
Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, 6200 Atherton St.
Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $18 to $25
A new American opera based on the classic by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Recommended for high school age and above. (310) 985-7000 or (310) 985-7097.
* Saturday, Oct. 29
Crafts workshops for ages 3 to 13
The Artmaker studio at Marketplace Long Beach, 6555 E. Pacific Coast Highway
11 a.m. to noon, 1 to 2 p.m.
Fee: $6 per class
* Sunday, Oct. 30
Children's Fall Harvest Festival
Rancho Los Alamitos Historic Ranch and Gardens, 8400 Bixby Hill Road
Noon to 4:30 p.m.
Story-telling, pumpkin hunt, harvest-themed games and costume parade. (310) 431-3541