Lakewood celebrates community via culture

In a low-slung building on the south end of Pacific Avenue, nine women are pinning hair, tying ribbons, tucking on slippers. And then, with a reverberation that shakes the windows, they launch into a fiercely booming rhythm on enormous drums of leather, cord and skin: mallets flying, pink robes twirling.

They’re the women that make up the Chang Hee Suk Korean drumming troupe, and they’re practicing for this weekend’s first Lakewood Sister Cities Arts Fest.

When you think of Lakewood, you maybe don’t think right away of Korean drumming – or Irish music, or dancers from Okinawa, Japan. But that’s exactly what Lakewood’s Sister Cities Arts Fest is all about. A collaboration of the 15-year-old Sister Cities Festival and the brand-new Lakewood Arts Festival, the event has expanded this year to three free days of cultural performances and activities from the many international groups that make up both the Lakewood community and its international sister cities.

“We’re a very diverse community in Lakewood,” says Connie Lacadie, now in her second term as president of the Lakewood Sister Cities committee. “(The festival) is a great way for us to celebrate and showcase that.”

The collaboration began last year, when a group of Lakewood arts supporters wanting to showcase (and give back to) the community’s arts scene decided to approach the Sister Cities festival, a one-day event that annually attracts about 600 visitors. The partnership, co-sponsored by the City of Lakewood, local Rotary clubs, the YMCA and more, gave birth to a three-day event that included many more local performers.

“The idea was to put on an event that eventually raised enough money to donate back to arts groups,” says Phil Raschke, who’s handling the marketing for the arts part of the festival.

Meanwhile, the community gets a free celebration of local and international culture. The three-day visual art show opens Friday, April 25, featuring both a juried show and an open community show. A separate section is devoted to military art, with works by locals Patrick Haskett and Alan Archambault on early Northwest military history, Joint Base Lewis-McChord units in Iraq and more. Other Lakewood artists in the general exhibition include Pat Graham, Marjorie Mankin, and Gail Janes; many will be there from 6-7:30 p.m.today for an artists’ reception and award-giving.

There will also be more than 40 student paintings from Clover Park high school students on display, and there will be performances by school groups, including the steel drum ensemble from Clover Park High School.

“This performance gives the students something to work towards,” says Dennis Dearth, band director at Clover Park High School, who began the steel drum ensemble 18 years ago to offer a musical opportunity for kids who had no instrumental background. “A lot of these kids don’t have many positives or success in their home lives. (The ensemble) builds discipline and teamwork, and gives them pride in themselves.”

But the best part for students, Dearth says, are performances at events such as the upcoming festival. “They love to look up and see people dancing. Performing builds community spirit and school pride.”

More local groups will perform Sunday, including the FLY dance company, Shahdaroba Middle Eastern Dance Troupe and the Lakewood Playhouse. The Chang Hee Suk drummers go on at 3 p.m.

“Traditionally, it was just men doing the drumming, but now women can do it too,” says drummer Kim Smith. Like many members, she began drumming just a few years ago without any experience, learning from the troupe’s teacher and playing at Korean birthdays, wedding and events.

The troupe, which practices twice weekly at the Korean-American Association building, buys its elaborate costumes and handmade drums from Korea. Drums range from enormous bass models that rest on tall stands to sitting drums with goblet-shaped carved bases, smaller drums used in dances and processions, and a couple of gongs. Using a variety of sticks from the wafer-thin bamboo changu-che for high notes to the big kung mallets, the women play pounding warlike beats, lilting three-beat pieces or dance to graceful rhythms.

“It’s hard to memorize everything,” Smith says.

Sandwiched in the middle of the two arts festival days is the Sister Cities event. As in previous years, the event features guest performers from one of Lakewood’s sister cities – this year, Okinawa City, on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. Dancers Megumi Matsuda, Tomoko Nakamura and Asami Ohama from the Miyagi-Ryu Minoruno Kai-Megumi Matsuda Dance Institute will perform traditional Japanese dances; local performers will offer dance and music originating from other places to which Lakewood has sister city ties: Guam, India, Thailand, Samoa, Afghanistan, the Philippines and Ireland.

Rounding out the festival are an arts and crafts market, ethnic food vendors and a kids’ corner offering origami, face painting, calligraphy and more.

“This is a first for Lakewood,” says Raschke. “It’s three days of free family fun. We just want everyone to come and have a good time.”

Lakewood Sister Cities Arts Fest

When: 6-9 p.m. Friday, April 25; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Cascade Building, Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, 9401 Farwest Drive SW, Lakewood

Cost: Free

Information: 253-906-1346, cityoflakewood.us

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568


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