This is the first of a three-part post about the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association and the annual Chinese New Year Festival.
The Magic City is filled with so many fun things to do! Some weekends, its hard to decide which way to turn with so many options! This past Saturday, I chose the 9th Annual Chinese New Year Festival at Boutwell Auditorium. Of course, I’m a little partial to this event since I around when it was born in 2006.
Before the festival was officially formed, many of the Chinese groups and organizations around town would celebrate Chinese New Year with smaller events. Even the Birmingham Museum of Art held a family event at one time. The year 2005 was a turning point though, and a concerted effort grew among the community to create one large event – a festival – to celebrate Chinese history and culture. This became a collaboration between the Birmingham Chinese Association (BCA), the Birmingham Public Library, the Birmingham Museum of Art and several other Chinese cultural groups. So, 2005 was the year the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association was born and they began planning their first Chinese New Year Festival in Linn Park.
Around this time, I met Amy Chen – a dynamo of a woman with a heart so full of a love of her Chinese culture you couldn’t help but smile every time she spoke to you about it! I always loved talking to Amy. Sometimes she would get so wrapped up in her stories she would tear up. Naturally, that would make me tear up too! She had been to my Fiesta event and loved what we were doing with our Hispanic cultural festival and wanted their Chinese festival to be a success just like ours. Amy asked me to come to some of the early organizing meetings where I shared what we did with Fiesta, how we organized, the types of sponsorships we looked for and how we mobilized volunteers to share their culture. Honestly, they had it all together already, but it was nice of Amy to ask me and for the organizing committee to listen to me. I helped Amy with sponsorship referrals that year and again a few years later when she became President of the BCFA. It’s hard to say “no” to Amy – and really, I didn’t want to because I know the work it takes to deliver a festival based on sponsorships and volunteers. It really was a joy to help her.
So the first event in Linn Park was February 2007. It really was exciting and you could feel the excitement building as tables were set up by vendors and organizations around the fountain in Linn Park. The smell of Chinese food began drifting through the air from the gazebo in the park and I couldn’t wait to grab a plate and dig in! The opening ceremonies featured a ribbon cutting and fireworks along with the Dragon Dance through the park. Across the street at the museum, Amy was busy at work getting a fashion show ready with modern and traditional dress. In between costume changes, she arranged for music performances and even sang a song herself to the audience!
The festival drew about 4,000 people to downtown Birmingham on a sunny, cold February day, and much like Fiesta, it was more than was anticipated for a first time event and definitely enough to call it a success and began planning for the next year.
Part 2 – The festival steps up and moves into Boutwell Auditorium along with entertainment straight from China!