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Exotic festivals, just a click away

From Park Avenue socialites to Andean villagers, all peoples hold festivals to express their cultural values and to mark important events. Their role is particularly important today, when globalization and modern communications threaten the identities of different cultures.

In February, anyone with a link to the World Wide Web will be able to visit festivals from around the Western Hemisphere and gain an understanding of other peoples' ways of life.

"Festivals of the Living and the Dead in the Americas" will be a virtual exhibition drawing on the rich traditions of celebrations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Canada and the United States. Coordinated by the Canadian Heritage Information Network, the exhibits will showcase the contributions of local dance clubs and musical groups, festival organizers and educational institutions through pictures, text, sound and video--in short, the next best thing to being there.

The idea for the virtual exhibit was proposed at the Summit of the Museums of the Americas, a gathering of 150 museum professionals from all countries in the Western Hemisphere held last April in San José, Costa Rica. The purpose of the meeting, which received IDB financing, was to take a new look at the role of museums in their communities. No longer should such institutions limit themselves to education, said participants. Today, they must become directly engaged with local community members to work in promoting their cultural heritage.

The festival's virtual exhibit, the first of a number of interregional initiatives to emerge from the meeting, will initially feature the following:

- The Samba School in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a foundation of the all-important Carnival tradition.

- The Quebec Winter Carnival, a colorful event that will be showcased by the Musée de la Civilisation in Canada.

- A youth festival in Costa Rica, presented through commentary and photographs.

- The Day of the Dead ceremonies in Mexico that help communities to remember previous generations.

- The Mardi Gras of Louisiana that weaves together African-American, Indian and Acadian traditions.

- Frontier Days of Wyoming, a unifying force for dispersed rural communities.

- Celtic festivals presented by the University College of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

- Cultural and agricultural festivals in Manitoba, Canada, presented by the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature.

- The Calgary Stampede, by Canada's Glenbow Museum, which honors the region's ranching past and today's rodeo tradition.

The exhibition will be available in English, Spanish, Portuguese (for the Brazilian section) and French.

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