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History of the Salem Multicultural Institute

The Salem Multicultural Institute began on February 15, 1997, on rolls of poster paper stretched across a dining room wall. Two moms with young daughters saw the need to create a positive, tangible response to growing concern about racial tensions in Salem.

That response took the form of a festival, a celebration of all of the many cultures that make Oregon such a wonderful place.

The inaugural Salem World Beat Festival® was held in conjunction with the grand opening of Salem's long-awaited Riverfront Park on June 27-28, 1998.

This grass-roots effort has grown out of meetings in living rooms and coffee shops into a meaningful celebration and year-round community volunteerism. More than 300 volunteers, 70 sponsors and 150 exhibitors and performing arts groups are involved with the festival annually. The average annual attendance has reached approximately 30,000 guests. Awards to the festival include: Cultural Event of the Year from the Salem Convention and Visitors Association; a Queen of Peace Community Service Award; a Quality of Life Award from Today's Choices, Tomorrow's Community; Best Festival 2006 from the readers of Salem Monthly and, twice, Best Cultural Heritage Event from the Oregon Festivals and Events Association. Also, the Salem Multicultural Institute itself was named Best Non-Profit in 2007 and 2008 by Salem Monthly readers.

Because of the positive connections made at the festival, the organization’s volunteers have been called to serve the community in the areas of cultural programming, referrals and committee work throughout the year. In 2006, the Salem Multicultural Institute moved our offices downtown and opened the World Beat Gallery at the Reed Opera House with an exhibit entitled Diversity in the Philippines. The gallery has since hosted other cultural exhibits, including Holidays Around the World, Black Voices from Salem’s Past, Scotland and Her People, Windows into China and a series about international marriage customs. The gallery and the performance series, which began in 2007, encourage local ethnic communities to showcase cherished traditions in the intimate, historic setting of the Reed.