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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Surf City? Try Diverse City.

As host of this weekend's Kaleidoscope Festival, Huntington Beach lays down its bodyboard and takes up the cause of cultural diversity, transforming its new Pier Plaza into a global village.

The event is produced by the Multicultural Arts Council of Orange County, a nonprofit group that encourages cross-cultural appreciation. It will feature continuous performances of international music and dance on two stages, 16 cultural pavilions, food booths, a marketplace and a children's area.

The multicultural festival caps nearly two weeks of concerts and activities marking the debut of Pier Plaza, an open-air venue of about 30,000 square feet on the north side of Huntington Beach Pier. Opening festivities began Friday with a concert by Keiko Matsui and continue daily through today's 7 p.m. concert by Ghibli. .

The Kaleidoscope Festival will run Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day; the children's area closes at 8 p.m. Admission and all performances and activities are free.

Arts council president Rose Cheung said the organization had been dormant since the last Kaleidoscope Festival in 1993 (the event was also held in 1989 and 1991). She said this year's festival has involved hundreds of volunteers and more than a year and a half of planning and marks a kind of "coming out" for the group.

"We hope to make it a big splash so everybody realizes the importance of celebrating cultural diversity," she said.

Known as the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County when it was founded in the mid-1980s, the council is dedicated to enhancing cross-cultural appreciation through outreach programs and education, Cheung said.

Its most visible projects included a traveling treasure chest program that lent trunks filled with artifacts and information from various cultures to elementary schools. That project was taken over by the Bowers Kidseum, with supervision and grant money from the council, Cheung said. (Kidseum also is coordinating Kaleidoscope's children's area, which will feature crafts, storytelling, face-painting and displays using some of the treasure chests' contents.)

Financial woes linked to the county's bankruptcy sent the council into hiatus, although many members remained committed to its ideals, Cheung said. Once the group was again "alive and kicking," members decided to revive Kaleidoscope, she said, to raise community awareness of the council's goals. After the festival, council committees will finalize plans for outreach programs, Cheung said.

In the meantime, volunteers have plenty to keep them busy. Two dozen performing groups--offering traditional Scottish songs to dances from Transylvania--have been confirmed for the two stages. Performance lengths range from 20 minutes to an hour.

Spectators are encouraged to picnic on the grounds or on the beach, where they'll be within earshot of the entertainment, Cheung said. Folks can bring food or choose from a wide range of ethnic dishes to be sold by local restaurants and community groups.

Sixteen cultural pavilions are the backbone of the event. They will be filled with artifacts, textiles, costumes, musical instruments, crafts, ceremonial objects and home decor to create walk-through, interactive environments. Groups hosting individual pavilions include the Iranian Cultural Center of Orange County, the International Thai Leadership Council, the Vietnamese Community of Orange County and the Irish Arts Council. (The Kaleidoscope Festival phone line has detailed information on the contents and activities of each pavilion.)

Visitors to most pavilions can interact with costumed hosts, asking questions or viewing short performances of traditional music and dance. The African American Council pavilion invites visitors to try on a head wrap or traditional hair braid.

In the Chinese pavilion, Cheung said, a "classic Chinese study room" will be re-created, complete with calligraphy, painting and instrument demonstrations. You can even try your hand at mah-jongg, the centuries-old board game that Cheung laughingly calls "good group therapy" because "people talk at the table while they play."

On track: A ship big enough to hold 75 trains? Now, that's titanic.

That's what visitors to the Queen Mary will find this weekend when Laguna Hills-based On Track Productions presents what it calls "the largest show of G-scale model trains around." Spread through the oceanliner's convention, wharf and parking areas, the show will feature approximately 75 fully functioning trains, along with vendors and public workshops.

In a special garden railroad, kids can operate these jumbo-sized model trains, said On Track's Bill Axline . (For the uninitiated, Axline says a G-scale locomotive is comparable in size to "a great big loaf of Wonder Bread.")

On Track Productions' Train Show runs Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach. Tickets will be sold at the door, $4 for children 3 to 11, $8 general admission; children younger than 3 admitted free.

Workshop prices vary; some are free. (949) 770-4856. Also on board the Queen, "The Titanic Expedition," a touring exhibit of Titanic artifacts and historical info ($6 admission; call [562] 435-3511.)

Showtime: After struggling for several years with uncertain funding, one of the county's best summer entertainment values is "back in full health."

That's the happy report from Sue Richmond of Anaheim's arts and special services office, coordinators of the Friday evening "Just for Kids" family concerts and shows in Pearson Park Amphitheater.

Now sponsored by Pacific Bell, the Anaheim Arts Council, Century Communications and Anaheim businesses, the 11-week season kicks off Friday with a musical version of "The Little Mermaid." The 90-minute show by the Golden State Children's Theatre is recommended for elementary school-aged children and their families.

A half dozen new artists have been added to the "Just for Kids" roster this year, and a couple old favorites, like the interactive Make*A*Circus, are gone.

Families are also invited to check out the venue's Starlight Specials music series and a trio of special bookings, including a production of "Peter and the Wolf" by the Orange County Symphony and the Academy of Dance on Aug. 22.

Pre-show picnicking is encouraged at all performances (BYO or hit the snack bar) and there's a playground nearby if the natives get restless.

This month's "Just for Kids" performances continue with Asian Adventure featuring Vietnamese and Chinese folk dancing (June 19) and music and magic by Erock (June 26).

In July, there's Music Born in America (July 3); "Earth Tales" by We Tell Stories (July 10); the audience-participation Adventures in Poetry (July 17); music and comedy by the Happy Crowd (July 24) and the Anaheim Ballet's "Tales of Hans Christian Andersen" (July 31).

In August there will be performances by the Funny Stuff Circus (Aug. 7), storyteller David Novak (Aug. 14) and Magic and Illusions with Ross Rice and Carol (Aug. 21).

"Just for Kids" performances are Friday evenings at 7:30 in Pearson Park Amphitheater, Sycamore and Lemon streets in Anaheim. Tickets are $2 general, $1 for children 4 to 12, and free for children 3 and younger. Tickets can be purchased in advance by mail, or at the door. (714) 765-5274.

BE THERE

Kaleidoscope '98 runs Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., at the Huntington Beach Pier Plaza, adjacent to the Huntington Beach Pier, Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. (Children's activities end at 8 p.m.) Free. Hotline: (714) 374-1777, Ext. 2.

Shuttle service is provided from parking lots at Huntington Beach City Hall (2000 Main St.), Seacliff Shopping Center (Main Street and Yorktown Avenue) and Huntington Beach High School (Adams Avenue and 17th Street).

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