How Festival International Impacts Lafayette

The downtown area is filled with old and newcomers that are surrounded by the festival’s magic. (Photo: Cory Fontenot).

Date: April 26, 2023, Author: Angeline Mathews

Festival International de Louisiane has been integral to Lafayette’s culture for 35 years, boosting the economy while also attracting tourism. The festival is a five-day long celebration of Acadian and international cultures meshing together.

According to the official festival website, Festival International was created by Herman Mhire, a visual artist from Lafayette. In 1987, the festival began as a way to boost Lafayette’s economy amidst the declining oil field industry.

Since its creation, the festival has evolved and overcome many obstacles, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic. After a brief hiatus due to COVID-19, for the first time in two years, the festival took place in 2022. During the pandemic, Festival International staff held the festival virtually.

Still of Carly Viator. (Credit: Kade Parker, 2023).

“The virtual festival ended up being really amazing,” Carly Viator, Festival International marketing director, said. “It brought people in the community and around the world a lot of hope during an uncertain time.”

According to Viator, the pandemic didn’t change much about Festival International.

“Our sponsors stuck with us to help us stay afloat. We were able to offer work to artists, musicians, local restaurants and bars. We turned it into something positive instead of canceling the festival altogether,” Viator said.

Hosting the festival in person for the first time in two years left many questions for coordinators and attendees alike. Would it be as successful as before Covid-19? Has Festival International lost its thrill?

A crowd forms while the festival performers make their way further downtown. (Photo: Cory Fontenot).

Viator said that the festival bounced back after the pandemic and there weren’t any negative effects.

“Last year was a success,” Viator said. “Now that people have had two years without the festival in person, they seem to appreciate us more.”

Ethan Hebert, an employee at Rukus in downtown Lafayette, has lived in Lafayette for two years and attended his first festival in 2022.

“Because of COVID, everybody was extra happy to be outside,” Hebert said. “Festival is our busiest week. I’m not really stressed, I’m mostly excited.”

Hebert notes that Festival International brings business not only to Rukus, but also to most stores in downtown Lafayette.

Locals and nonlocals gather around the stage to experience some of Louisiana’s music culture. (Photo: Cory Fontenot, 2019).

Ski Stephan, who works downtown, has lived in Lafayette for 30 years and has attended about 13 festivals.

“Festival before Covid had a tangible energy of loose joy. People’s guards were down and they were really easy-going,” Stephan said. “Last year’s festival felt smaller and there was a heightened awareness. I think people were less relaxed due to gun violence.”

Despite some uneasiness in 2022, Stephan is looking forward to Festival International this year.

“Festival brings repetition and normalcy. I’m hoping that people focus on the musicians instead of what could possibly go wrong,” Stephan said.

Attitudes surrounding Festival International are mostly positive and filled with excitement. Navigating COVID-19 wasn’t too hard for Festival International employees, but what does the future of the festival entail?

Viator notes that the purpose of the festival has remained the same for its entire existence— boosting tourism and attracting business in downtown Lafayette. Two years and a global pandemic later, Festival International’s goal remains the same.

“Our mission is to keep Festival International around forever. We have a small, dedicated staff and amazing volunteers. I have faith that we’ll keep on improving every year,” Viator said.

For more of our Festival International de Louisiane coverage, click here.

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