HomeCommunity NewsDavid Laurell: Elevate Burbank Festival Fuses World’s Cultures

David Laurell: Elevate Burbank Festival Fuses World’s Cultures

On May 11, hundreds of locals convened on an Empire Center parking lot that had been transformed into a festive fusion of cultural art, music, dance, food, fashion, pride, education, understanding and acceptance as Elevate Burbank staged its third annual Celebrate Burbank Multicultural Arts Festival.

As is the case with so many words, terms and phrases used by those of us who communicate through the English language, the word “fusion” was derived from the Latin word “fundere,” which means to melt things together.

Fusion can be the act of sharing different concepts to create a new way of looking at the past, present and future of the entire world, or the combination of elements or ingredients that originate from different countries, regions, or cultures that influence our culinary and fashion tastes and trends. 

Among the Elevate Burbank board members in attendance were Sonya Garza Barry, Susan Tompkins, Darya Babenko and Madison Jones McAleese.

Elevate Burbank is a nonprofit organization that was formed by a group of multicultural, multi-racial and multigenerational individuals who accept and honor the spectrum of everyone’s sexual orientation and gender identification. Their mission, as people who care about Burbank, is to promote the understanding of cultural diversity through events, engagements and partnerships with the community at-large.

Along with a caring group of fusion-loving and energetic individuals who believe that diversity, inclusion and acceptance is a vital element in any thriving community, Elevate Burbank was founded by Linda Bessin, who serves as the organization’s president.

Elevate Burbank supporter Suzanne Weerts was greeted backstage by Isabel Omero who hosted the festival.

A 30-year Burbank resident who is a member of the Burbank Infrastructure Oversight Board and chair of Valley Community Healthcare, a nonprofit community clinic, Bessin is the former president of Haven Hills, one of the largest domestic violence shelters in the San Fernando Valley.

Joining Bessin were members of the Elevate Burbank board that include Isabel Omero, who hosted the 2024 multicultural arts festival. Omero, who has worked in television production for four decades, is a transgender woman who came out in 2019. Since then she has worked tirelessly as a volunteer with various inclusive organization, spearheaded the first-ever Burbank Pride festival in 2022, and in 2023, was named Burbank’s Woman of The Year by Rep. Adam Schiff.

Anna Kapshuk of Kyiv, Ukraine performed a traditional Ukrainian folk dance with the Chervona Kalyna Ensemble.

Rounding out the board are Susan Tompkins, Chris Bolm, Sonya Garza Barry, Darya Babenko, and Madison Jones McAleese.

Barry serves as the co-chair for Luther Burbank Middle School’s diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, Babenko is a Ukrainian-born musician and music teacher who owns and operates the Burbank-based Elf Music Academy and Jones McAleese professionally consults for a diverse range of nonprofits, including civil rights groups, housing organizations, voter advocacy projects, arts groups and educational access organizations.

Jones McAleese also serves as the vice president of Elevate Burbank, is also on the committee of Burbank Pride and is an associate pastor with The Table, a multiracial, LGBTQ+-affirming church.

While welcoming festivalgoers to the event, Jones McAleese said she got involved with Elevate Burbank because she was looking for an organization to devote her time and energy to that had a mission in line with her personal values.

“My values are to support unity, accept diversity, and build community,” said Jones McAleese who did her undergraduate work at California Lutheran University before earning dual master’s degrees in public diplomacy and Christian studies and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in social transformation.

Grammy-nominated recording artist, songwriter and composer Queen Ofir was on hand to greet festivalgoers.

“To me, all of those things — the acceptance of diversity, and community pride that is unified, joyful, vibrant and prosperous — comes from one thing: inclusion,” Jones McAleese added.

This year’s festival included various vendors, a kids’ zone with arts and crafts stations, a creative zone which showcased community art projects and organizations. It also showcased more than four hours of performances that included the fusion of dance styles, from contemporary to ballet and hip-hop, along with music that fused genres like reggae, ska, salsa and American rock with sounds from Egypt, Armenia, Brazil and Ukraine, among others.

A highlight of the festival was a performance by the Chervona Kalyna Ensemble, a Southern California-based Ukrainian dance company under the direction of Asya Gorska and ensemble coordinator Andrea Kusina. Founded in October of 2011, the company performs regularly at the Los Angeles Ukrainian Culture Center and is dedicated to preserving, fostering, and sharing the history, culture and origin of Ukrainian dance.

“As Ukrainians we are very proud of our country and or culture,” said Elizabeth Zaharkiv-Yemetz, who is a Burbank resident, dancer and company costumer. “We are going through very challenging times. [Vladimir] Putin is trying to destroy both our country and our culture. He wants to exhaust us. But just like our soldiers can’t allow themselves to become exhausted in order to maintain our country, we who entertain can’t become exhausted so that we can maintain our art, music and culture.”

Among the notables in attendance at this year’s festival were state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Burbank cultural arts commissioner Cindy Pease, Burbank Philharmonic Orchestra musical director and conductor Michael Stanley, and the Israeli-born Queen Ofir, a Grammy-nominated multilingual recording artist, songwriter and composer.

For more information on the work of Elevate Burbank and upcoming events, visit elevateburbank.org.

A performance of four dance numbers by the Chervona Kalyna Ensemble was one of the highlights of the festival.
Fernanda Tenorio of the Burbank Community Y’s Social Impact Center and state Sen. Anthony Portantino enjoyed the Elevate Burbank festival on May 11.
Chervona Kalyna Ensemble members Mykola Marchenko and Roman Yemetz took part in the Celebrate Burbank Multicultural Arts Festival.
Levgeniia Stopnyk was one of the featured dancers in the Chervona Kalyna Ensemble’s performance.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the May 25 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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