Before Deepali Lindblom ever landed in Colorado, she’d already established herself as a performer of traditional and pop Indian dance, an event-maker, a teacher and an organizer within refugee communities, moving from Bombay to Sweden to Montreal.
At first Lindblom was a fish out of water here. There was little call for her skills in the less-cosmopolitan city of Aurora, but she quickly identified with the city's immigrant and senior populations, and was soon back in business doing what she does best: making community through dance and the arts.
“It’s my path,” Lindblom says of her calling to do some good in a hard new world.
After producing various performances and plays with refugees through her Roshni outreach program, Lindblom decided to go bigger in 2020, in response to the COVID pandemic.
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“People were feeling depressed and lonely, so I thought, ‘What will bring people together?'” she recalls. “I created a virtual dance flash mob, and 100 people signed up right away. The spirit to come together was very strong. I wanted to thank first responders and honor our own spirit of resilience, because this pandemic brought out the good sides of people that we don’t always see.” The project was a success, and that got her thinking about doing something more complex.
In spite of all the roadblocks Lindblom encountered, now tangled up in safety protocols, she set her mind on bringing something new to the always-striving Aurora Cultural Arts District. Her solution? The New American Arts Festival, a September celebration of Aurora’s hidden vitality and diversity. With only a few months to prepare, Lindblom was confident that she could cook up something wonderful in a short time. “I have a history of organizing festivals,” she explains. “I’ve been known to create festivals like no one else dares.”
As promised, things began to come together quickly. With help from the community she treasures, big names and ideas began to come on board. The superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who visited Aurora in 2018 as part of his community-based Bach Project tour, agreed to live-stream a performance of Dvorak’s "Going Home" to kick off the free three-day virtual and in-person fest.
Jonny 5 of Flobots will bring an audio-tapestry presentation of young voices rapping about what they love about their community, while representatives from Lighthouse Writers Workshop will present the interactive installation and writing experience Poetrees during the live portion of the fest. Lindblom will pitch in with the online premiere of her dance film Dance as One, which documents a Roshni project that brought together sixty people from around the world virtually to create a dance video.
In addition, a creative slate of locals, from community members to known performers in the arts, will all be doing their thing, either streaming live from the Vintage Theatre, a cultural spot in the neighborhood, or in person at the International Pavilion on Fletcher Plaza in downtown Aurora.
In particular, Lindblom hopes to shine a light on Fletcher Plaza as a public place with a bad rap that she’d like to be used more. “People are afraid of the homeless on East Colfax,” Lindblom says of visitors unfamiliar with Aurora. “Not many will come down to do things at the plaza. It’s not even considered a welcoming place by some local people.
“But we are trying to change that viewpoint and show off the plaza as a place of celebration,” she explains. “We will have volunteers to make sure families are protected and following COVID-19 guidelines. It’s my intention to bring everyone together — it doesn’t matter who they are.”
Lindblom has also come up with a unique way to handle the service of ethnic foods — an important part of any multicultural festival, and a beautiful way to celebrate Aurora’s diverse communities — in a safe way, by funneling hungry folks through the Mango House ethnic food court, just down the street at 10180 East Colfax Avenue. Cuisines served at participating food counters there include Syrian, Sudanese, Nepali and Asian dishes.
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“We are giving out food vouchers offering $6 worth of food for only $5,” Lindblom says. “The restaurant business has been hard hit, and those with ethnic backgrounds have been hurt even more. I’m thinking that a few new people would try new cuisines. They won’t find this kind of food anywhere else, and the discount gives them motivation."
Some of those vouchers will go to refugee families she works with through her Roshni community programs. “They would never even dream of going out to eat,” she notes. “We want them to also go in and taste something different.”
Lindblom hopes this is just the beginning for the New American Arts Festival and its mission of fostering understanding among different communities living in the metro area. “I’m getting something rolling, but the community has to sustain it,” she says. “I hope they will continue to do that, and that the festival will still be happening after ten years. We have to create platforms for people without a voice to speak and represent for themselves.”
The New American Arts Festival's opening ceremonies will be live-streamed from the Vintage Theatre on Friday, September 11, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; more programs will be streamed on Saturday, September 12, at 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, September 13, at 2:30 p.m. Experience events in person at Fletcher Plaza on Saturday, September 12, from 3 to 5 p.m, and Sunday, September 13, from noon to 2 p.m. All events are free. Go online to find more information, including the complete schedule and live-streaming link.