Waterbury brought together its many proud ethnicities in one massive multi-cultural downtown festival called The Gathering. This event invited every ethnic group in the city to celebrate its culture in one place at one time in a celebration of their uniqueness, building an understanding and appreciation of each other and creating a tighter-knit community. The City of Waterbury, Waterbury Observer and Main Street Waterbury shared the 2015 Award of Excellence for Events & Planning, sponsored by Webster Bank, for their successful endeavor to bring the City’s residents together.
2015 Awards of Excellence for Events & Planning, Sponsored by Webster Bank
The Gathering: Waterbury’s Cross Cultural Festival
Recipients: City of Waterbury, Waterbury Observer, Main Street Waterbury
- Waterbury, Connecticut is home to residents from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Immigrants came to find work and willingly lent their skills, intelligence and capacity for hard work to the demands of the world’s markets for the products made in the city’s factories. Over the 20th century, manufacturing dwindled and all but died, but its strong-willed populations remained.
- In the words of Waterbury citizen Jimmy Saunders, “If you started at the Green and went north, you knew who lived there. If you headed to the south, you knew who lived there. For most of my life, if you told me the name of the street in Waterbury I could tell you what ethnic group lived there.” Saunders took the division one step further. “Even after you died, you stayed separated. The Irish had their own funeral home and so did the Italians, Jews, and Blacks. We were separated in life, and we were separated in death. We never came together.”
- For two decades Waterbury Observer publisher John Murray had covered small ethnic celebrations largely attended by members of the groups hosting the event. Murray had the idea of creating one massive multi-cultural festival in Downtown, inviting every ethnic group in the city to celebrate its culture in one place at one time.
- Murray sought collaboration with Main Street Waterbury and the Mayor’s Office in producing The Gathering. Using the Mayor’s clout to hold a series of community meetings with the leaders from each ethnic groups, and Main Street Waterbury’s experience in establishing structure and organization to the idea, the festival went from concept to fruition in four months!
- It was determined that the event would be free and open to everyone. The Mayor’s Office and Main Street recruited ethnic groups, booked music and dance acts, secured commitment of food vendors who featured foods from dozens of countries around the world, and raised sponsorship money to cover expenses, which totaled about $20,000. Additionally, John Murray of the Observer successfully recruited $36,000 in media sponsorships to spread the word throughout the region.
- Teams were established to handle the parade logistics, the park layout, and volunteer recruitment and orientation. Volunteer educators developed a simple and creative passport game that inspired children from K-6 to visit 30 display booths to get stickers in their “passports” – and in the process, lean more about a variety of ethnic groups.
- In 2014, 3,350 people marched in a massive parade through Downtown. Seventy tents, hosting displays and vendors, lined Library Park. Over 40 ethnic groups participated. There were 25 featured stage performances throughout the afternoon. An estimated 10,000 people attended this day-long celebration of food, music, dance and culture from around the world.
- Mayor Neil O’Leary called it “the best event I have attended in my three decades of public service in the city. The Gathering opened all of our eyes to what people can do when they work together. This was a historic event for the City of Waterbury.” Lynne Williamson, Director of the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program, said to her knowledge there had never been a more inclusive and successful festival celebrating diversity in Connecticut history.