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It's hard to find, or even imagine, a U.S. city more homogenous than Salt Lake. If America as a whole is the great melting pot, sometimes it seems that Utah is still a Jell-O mold. But that's only if you look on the surface, says Casey Jarman.

"There's another reality and that's that there are a lot of (ethnic) groups that are vital, growing and important," notes Jarman, programs director of the Salt Lake Arts Council.To applaud, embrace and enjoy that other reality, the Arts Council will hold its fifth annual Living Traditions: A Celebration of Salt Lake's Folk and Ethnic Arts festival this weekend.

This year the festival moves from its former home at Pioneer Trail State Park to Washington Square at the City-County Building downtown.

"We wanted the festival in the heart of the city," Jarman explains, "because that's what it's about."

The festival runs Friday evening through Sunday (see box). Admission is free.

Unlike the Salt Lake Arts Festival, which has a contemporary tone, Living Traditions focuses on traditional arts - those arts that are passed down from generation to generation and form a link to a past that survives despite McDonald's and Levi's and TV.

Salt Lake's cultural diversity is a product of recent waves of emigration and ethnic ties that go back more than a hundred years - from recent Lithuanian emigres and Vietnamese boat people to Salt Lakers with Swedish and British roots.

The Living Traditions festival will feature food, music, dance and crafts demonstrations from cultures as diverse as Basque, Afghani, Laotian, Native American and Bulgarian.

The festival is sponsored by the Salt Lake Arts Council, Utah Arts Council Folk Arts Program, the Educational Equity Unit of the Utah State Office of Education, KUER, KUED and KRCL.

Like other emigres, Sergey and Tatyana Oloy are trying to keep their traditions alive while at the same time adjusting to life in America. In Salt Lake only since December, the Oloys live in a sparse apartment downtown while they learn enough English to pursue the American dream.

"We don't like stay on welfare," explains Sergey. "But I think our English not good enough for good job. But I think later."

In the Soviet Union, Sergey had a degree in architectural engineering but worked as what he calls "a music man," singing in concert halls and on passenger ships on the Black Sea.

He will perform Russian folk music and "special romantic music" at Living Traditions on Sunday afternoon. Tatyana, a graphic designer, will demonstrate traditional Russian embroidery throughout the festival.

Although she is also a painter, Tatyana could not afford to bring her artwork out of the Soviet Union because the taxes were prohibitively high. Sergey could not afford to bring his guitar either but was recently given one by Intermountain Guitar and Banjo.

Sergey and Tatyana left their relatives and home in Odessa because, as Sergey puts it, they have "different views on life than the Communist Party."

Despite recent changes in the Soviet Union, says Sergey, "there is so much corruption. To understand that you must live in Russia a long time."

In addition to local artists, Living Traditions will also feature two international acts that reflect cultures harder to find in Salt Lake City.

Traditional "country blues" from the American South will be performed by "Bowling Green" John Cephas and "Harmonica" Phil Wiggins on Friday evening. On Saturday night Samite of Uganda will combine native folk tales and rhythms from his homeland into a program that reflects the lyrical richness of the African continent.

Samite, a political refugee from Idi Amin's dictatorship who now lives in upstate New York, will perform on the flute, kalimba, litunda and mirimba.


(Additional information)

A weekend of activity

-FRIDAY: Living Traditions opens at 5 p.m. with music from Greece, opening ceremonies featuring Mayor Palmer DePaulis and country blues from the American South - plus plenty of food. The site is Washington Square on the grounds of the City and County Building, 415 S. State St.

-SATURDAY: Noon to 9 p.m. - Craft demonstrations, more food and a different performing group every half-hour.

-SUNDAY: Noon to 8 p.m., more of the same.

Performing groups will include the Swiss Chorus Edelweiss, the Margaret Yee Chinese Dance Group, Conjunto Music from the Texas-Mexico border, music and dance from Tonga, Basque music and dance, the New Shtetl Ramblers featuring music from Israel and Hawaiian hulas.

Samite of Uganda will perform at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The festival's exotic food is sold by local non-profit ethnic organizations as part of fund-raising efforts.