When Terry Olson was hired by Orange County to create the Arts and Cultural Affairs Office in 2001, he knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime due to the region’s diverse global influences. Today, with FusionFest 2019 just around the corner, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, he credits the entire community with helping to create the ultimate multicultural festival.
“FusionFest is the result of a grassroots effort that has always been supported by Orange County, as well as the Downtown Arts District and the Orlando Downtown Development Board, but without the support of the many diverse cultural organizations in the region, we couldn’t have made this happen,” said Olson, who created a steering committee in 2016. “When the County gave us the green light to make it official, we started brainstorming, raising money and organizing, and were able to premiere the festival last Thanksgiving weekend in 2018.”
Now in its second year, FusionFest is a two-day celebration of Central Florida’s many diverse cultures. The event starts with a parade each day and continues with daily musical and dance performances, as well as a global street dance party each night. Guests enjoy interactive visual art experiences, fashion shows, spoken word contests, documentary films, and a marketplace with merchandise and food from around the world. It takes place on Thanksgiving weekend at the Seneff Arts Plaza of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, including Orange Avenue and Orlando City Hall.
Olson, who started the Orlando Fringe Festival 27 years ago, admits FusionFest is the most challenging project he has ever tackled. In preparation for last year’s event, he went to 62 different ethnic heritage festivals and gatherings in the region.
“It’s about bringing people together,” said Olson, who describes the festival as a kaleidoscope of sights, sound and aromas.
The festival, he adds, exists to honor each person’s heritage, while also exploring and celebrating how we influence each other, creating our own unique identity. “My goal would be that all Central Floridians feel they have a place and have value. And as we bring these things to the table, we’re inspired to be more creative and innovative in our businesses, social lives, the arts and in our expressions.”