Crossroad Festival­ Explores Southeast Arkansas’s Cultural Heritage

Family-Friendly Programming Highlights African American, French, and CHinese Communities’ Contributions through Story, Music, Food and Film

Crossroad Festival logo.png

By Shannon Frazeur

The Arts & Science Center invites the community to learn more about the area’s cultural heritage during the 2019 Crossroad Festival, ASC’s three-day, family-friendly cultural celebration. This multi-program event explores Jefferson County and Southeast Arkansas’s cultural heritage through the interpretive lens of story, music, foodways, and film.

All festival events are free and open to the public with no tickets or reservations required. Families are encouraged to attend.

Attendees of Folktales Family Fun, 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 2, will be invited to make masks of the French Creole folktale characters Bouki (left) and Lapin. (PHOTO COURTESY DR. ELISTA ISTRE)

Attendees of Folktales Family Fun, 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 2, will be invited to make masks of the French Creole folktale characters Bouki (left) and Lapin. (PHOTO COURTESY DR. ELISTA ISTRE)

Each year, the festival highlights different cultural groups that have made a lasting impact on the history, culture, and traditions of Southeast Arkansas. This year’s event features programming on the African American, French and Chinese communities’ regional cultural heritage.

“It’s not a festival in the contemporary sense with food and product vendors,” said ASC Executive Director Dr. Rachel Miller. “Instead, it’s a celebration.”

The festival kicks off Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m. with a program incorporating African American folktales and slave narratives into an interpretative performance involving musicians and actors from the community. Saturday, March 2, features two family programs featuring folklore and food, with hands-on activities. The event caps off Sunday afternoon, March 3, with a screening of the 2006 animated film The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, with director and Pine Bluff native Byron Vaughns.

The 2019 Crossroad Festival is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and sponsorships by the Pine Bluff Advertising & Promotion Commission and Simmons Bank.

This is the second year for the Crossroad Festival. Last year’s festival focused on the region’s Quapaw Indian, French, and African American cultural heritage.

The Crossroad Festival was inspired by ASC’s Heritage Detectives project. A historian and artist were placed in Pine Bluff, Dumas, McGehee, and Lake Village classrooms to work with students on uncovering and depicting the diverse cultural influences of Southeast Arkansas through pictorial histories.

The festival idea percolated after ASC staff attended cultural programs at other institutes.

“The event was first initially conceptualized after staff attended the FUSION: Arts & Humanities Arkansas festival hosted by the Clinton Presidential Center in February 2017,” explained ASC Executive Director Dr. Rachel Miller. “In discussion with members of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma Cultural Committee, it was determined that there would be an audience for a similar event, but specifically focusing on the Quapaw’s history and legacy in Jefferson County.”

ASC will host a screening of the animated film  The Adventures of Brer Rabbit  on Sunday, March 3, at 1 p.m. during the Crossroad Festival.

ASC will host a screening of the animated film The Adventures of Brer Rabbit on Sunday, March 3, at 1 p.m. during the Crossroad Festival.

Shortly thereafter, ASC staff attended a screening of the documentary film First Cousins: Cajun and Creole Music in South Louisiana documentary, and met with the film’s producer and scholar Dr. Elista Istre about influences of Cajun and Creole culture in Delta regional music. 

“All agreed that Pine Bluff, a city originally settled by Joseph Bonne, who was half French and half Quapaw Indian, would be ideal central location to host a cultural event that explores the county's French and Quapaw roots through primary sources,” Miller said.

In June 2017, ASC hosted a free screening of the AETN documentary, Dream Land: Little Rock’s West 9th Street. “We received an overwhelming response from the audience to host more similar events that focus on the area's African American heritage,” Miller said. Subsequently, ASC reached out to Jimmy Cunningham Jr., executive director of the Delta Rhythm & Blues Bayous Alliance, about organizing an event exploring Jefferson County’s African American history through music.

2019 Programming

Friday, March 1, 7-9 p.m. — Tricksters, Tall Tales, and Blues Notes

Jimmy Cunningham

Jimmy Cunningham

This year’s festival kicks off with a night of lore, music and interpretation with the program Tricksters, Tall Tales, and Blues Notes. The event will combine living history, folklore, and musical performance in exploring African American experiences in Southeast Arkansas. Jimmy Cunningham Jr., with whom ASC collaborated during last year’s festival, writes and directs this program featuring regional actors and musicians.

The program is presented in four parts, and will explore four themes: folk heroes, prison folk music, animal folktales, and urban folklore.

Saturday, March 2, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. — Folktales & Foodways Family Fun

The festival’s second day will comprise two family-friendly programs, with lunch available for purchase.

In the morning session, Heritage Studies and Living History Interpretation scholar Dr. Elista Istre will lead Folktales Family Fun — a family storytelling, hands-on program. She will share traditional French Creole stories of the characters of Bouki (a fox) and Lapin (a rabbit), which are similar to the “Brer Rabbit” tales. She will also explore the links between West Africa, the Caribbean, and the American South. The program will include a craft workshop in which the children can make a mask of Bouki or Lapin to take home with them.

Dr. Elista Istre

Dr. Elista Istre

Ilstre is the founder of Belle Heritage, offering consulting, programming, and tours that inspire individuals and organizations to celebrate the beauty of heritage. Last year, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press published her book Creoles of South Louisiana: Three Centuries Strong, which began as a dissertation during her time in Arkansas State University’s Heritage Studies program. She will have her books available for purchase at the festival.

She was also involved with the 2018 Crossroad Festival. She and her sister, Dr. Moriah Istre, screened their documentary film, First Cousins: Cajun and Creole Music in South Louisiana, and sat on a panel that discussed the French connections within Louisiana and Arkansas. She lives in Lafayette, La.

For the afternoon program, Istre will join Food Studies and Material Culture scholar Kevin Kim to expand the festival theme of cultural diffusion and adaption with Foodways & Tales. The program will provide a historical context for the foodways of South Louisiana’s Creole people, and Southeast Arkansas’s Cantonese communities, and address how both cultures have negotiated the fine lines between assimilation and isolation within the larger mainstream American culture.

Kevin Kim

Kevin Kim

Both scholars will share family stories and recipes. In a cooking demonstration, children from the Jefferson County 4-H Club will cook greens the Creole way to compare and contrast with how the Cantonese prepare greens as demonstrated by Kim.

Kim is a doctoral student in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he also teaches courses on material culture and popular culture. His research interests focus on the cultural politics of food in American life, with a special emphasis on Asian American foodways. His work has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR). He has held curatorial internships at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and has worked with the Southern Foodways Alliance. He was born in South Korea and has lived in Los Angeles and Little Rock.

Pop’s Place food truck will be at ASC from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. so visitors can enjoy lunch between the programs­.

Byron Vaughns

Byron Vaughns

Sunday, March 3, 1-3 p.m.The Adventures of Brer Rabbit Screening and Q&A with Director/Animator Byron Vaughns

Continuing the exploration of African American folktales, ASC will close the 2019 festival with a screening of the 2006 animated Universal Pictures film The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. A question-and-answer session will follow with the film’s director, Byron Vaughns.

A Pine Bluff native and a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Vaughns has worked on many classic animated television shows including Alvin & the Chipmunks, The Smurfs, Animaniacs, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He won an Emmy in 1993 for directing Tiny Toon Adventures, which was selected for best animated daytime series. Vaughns lives in White Hall after residing in the Los Angeles area for more than three decades.