Living Traditions Festival returns, celebrating cultures through food, music, dance and art

After canceling in 2020 and modifying the event in 2021, the Salt Lake City event returns in full.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Grupo Folklorico Tollan, seen here at the 2021 Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake City, will return as one of dozens of dance and music groups performing at the 2022 festival, May 20-22, 2022, in downtown Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City’s Living Traditions Festival — the celebration of some 90 cultures that call Utah home, through food, music, dance and crafts — is returning in full force for 2022, after canceling one year and revamping its program the next because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year, we split the weekend up into five different events throughout May and June, to make sure we didn’t have 30,000 people there all at once,” said Samantha Smith, the festival’s communications coordinator.

This year, Smith said, “we feel comfortable going back to one weekend,” though health and safety measures will still be in place.

The festival happens this weekend, May 20-22, taking over Washington and Library squares, between State Street and 300 East, and between 400 South and 500 South, in downtown Salt Lake City. Attendance is free.

Dawn Borchardt, the festival’s program coordinator, said the excitement of the festival is that “it doesn’t matter what your background is, everybody has a living tradition and that’s what we’re celebrating. “We’re doing it through the performing arts, through craft artists, through cultural food.”

Borchardt said the growth in the community is reflected in the new groups performing this year, such as a group from South Sudan who are “pretty recent refugees. … That’s just one example of a new group that didn’t exist here in Utah two years ago and now we get to celebrate them.”

The festival’s food market has a new addition: The Venezuelan restaurant Arempas, a suggestion of the market’s sponsor, Uber Eats.

“They actually have a brick-and-mortar location on State Street, not far from where the festival is being held,” Smith said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Beef, chicken and potato empanadas from Arempas Venezuelan Cuisine — which has been added to the food market at the 2022 Living Traditions Festival, set to run May 20-22, 2022.

The other food vendors have all participated in Living Traditions in past years, Smith said — though many weren’t involved in last year’s hybrid festival, or were involved in a less robust way.

Sobe Eats was with us last year with a food truck, so it was different than what Living Traditions typically is,” she said.

In addition to the food, Bohemian Brewery will serve beer and wine. “They have that history of eastern European culture and heritage, so they are a natural tie-in for us,” Smith said.

Bohemian and every booth in the food market will be cash-only. (ATMs will be available on the festival grounds.) Smith said that because a number of the participants are community groups, rather than restaurants, they may not have the resources to maintain a Square reader or an iPad to charge purchases electronically. Making the purchases on a cash basis provides a level playing field, Smith said, and makes the event more fair and accessible for everyone.

Some groups, Smith said, “use Living Traditions as their biggest fundraiser of the year, and then they use those proceeds to reinvest in their communities.”

Vendors often benefit in ways beyond financially, Smith said.

“Sometimes, the market is an incubator, so people can go and create their own business or their own festivals, using Living Traditions as a starting point,” she said. “Mama Africa, who has been with us for many years, bottles her sauce. The Italian-American Civic League started Festa Italiana at The Gateway, which is one of my favorites. We’re happy to see participants go out and create their own thing.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dancers from the Viva Peru Dance Academy, perform at the 2021 Living Traditions festival in Salt Lake City, are among the groups scheduled to return for the festival's 2022 version, set for May 20-22, 2022, at Washington and Library Squares in downtown Salt Lake City.

The festival boasts 32 artisans, making everything from hand-knotted rugs to custom boots, as well as workshops and a Sunday afternoon panel with artists from Utah’s Ukrainian community. Dozens of dance and music groups are scheduled to perform on three stages over the festival’s three days, as well as on the lawn around Washington Square.

In the City Library auditorium on Friday, at 6 p.m., the festival will screen the first of its “Living Legacy Video” series, a project created during the pandemic to “celebrate some of the long-standing performing artists and craft artists,” Borchardt said.

A collection of short films, curated by the Sundance Institute, will screen Saturday and Sunday, at 4 p.m., in the City Library’s auditorium. The films come from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Ethiopia.

Here are the 2022 vendors for the Living Traditions Food Market:

Mama Africa Kitoko • African: Congolese. Combo plates, samosas and beignets.

African Spice • African: Sierra Leonean/Ghanaian. Shawarma, samosas and plantains.

Nepalese Association of Utah • Asian: Nepalese. Curry, masala, samosas, chicken mono.

Utah Tibetan Association • Asian: Tibetan. Noodles, curry, fried rice.

Vietnamese Volunteer Youth Association • Asian: Vietnamese. Egg rolls, pot stickers, skewers, banh mi.

St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church • Eastern European: Serbian. Cabbage, stew, sausages, salad, pita.

Utah Argentina Alliance • Latino: Argentine. Empanadas, flan, alfajores.

Asociación de Colombianos en el exterior • Latino: Colombian. Empanadas, chorizo, arepas, buñuelos.

Sobe Eats Culinary Concepts • Latino: Mexican. Street tacos and bowls.

Peruvian Traditions • Latino: Peruvian. Salchipapas, arroz con pollo, pollada.

Arempas • Latino: Venezuelan. Arepas and empanadas.

Pakistani Association • Middle Eastern: Pakistani. samosas, curry, kebabs, daal.

Jayhawks • Native. Navajo tacos, salad, fry bread.

National Tongan American Society • Oceanian: Tongan. Sapasui, lu pulu, kalua pork, kumala.

Basque Club of Utah • Western European: Basque. Chorizo, ham croquetas, churros.

8th Street Greek Food • Western European: Greek. Gyro plates.

Italian-American Civic League • Western European: Italian. Sausage sandwiches, cannolis, cornettos.

The festival runs Friday, from 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, from noon to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, from noon to 7 p.m. For more information, go to saltlakearts.org/livingtraditionspresents.