The International Center Embraces and Celebrates Cultural Expression

In part through its Festival Fund, the International Center helps support cultural expression, understanding, and appreciation.
a collection of flags from all over the world

“Get Engaged (in Your Community) with Tiffany Hanson” is a series exploring community engagement opportunities in Indianapolis. 

A photo of the Get Engaged slide with a picture of a woman next to it

The International Center 50th anniversary logo
The International Center’s 50th anniversary logo

In 1971, Indiana hosted the International Conference on Cities, bringing municipal leaders from around the world together right here in Indianapolis. Then-mayor Richard Lugar, inspired by the international visitors he was hosting, recognized the need for Indiana to take a larger step onto the global stage. Through Lugar’s efforts, The International Center was established in 1973 to welcome international visitors, support multicultural populations, and enhance awareness of global issues in Indiana. 

Woman in purple shirt smiling at camera
Svitlana Ramer, The International Center’s vice president of development and external affairs

Celebrating fifty years of service in our community, today The International Center carries on its legacy as “the catalyst for a global Indiana,” working to inform, convene, and connect Hoosiers to the world around us.  

Svitlana Ramer, Ukraine native and The International Center’s vice president of development and external affairs, shared, “To be able to work at a nonprofit organization, focusing on our mission to promote global objectives within Indiana, to nurture our rich cultural tapestry and help Hoosiers embrace ethnic diversity that makes up the fabric of our state that is a true calling.” 


With over 100 languages spoken by resident Hoosiers, here are some fun facts about the international nature of the composure of Indiana today: 

  • Indiana is home to approximately 950 foreign-owned business establishments representing nearly 40 countries and territories. In addition to investments from businesses around the world, immigrants in Indiana account for 7% of business owners in the state and 6% of business owners in Indianapolis. 
  • Hoosier hospitality extends to a large number of refugees who have made their home here, bringing their cultural heritage to our great state. For example, Indianapolis is home to the largest Burmese community in the country — over 24,000 people as of 2020. Other predominant refugee populations in Indiana hail from Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Haiti, Sudan, and Syria. 
  • At least 13% of residents in Marion County speak a language other than English in the home. 

Hosting a melting pot of heritage in our great state, The International Center plays an important role in helping to embrace and celebrate the cultural expression of our neighbors and visitors. Their “Festival Fund” engages the community through the promotion and support of activities and events held by international and cultural organizations in our region, supporting cultural expression and encouraging appreciation of a wide variety of cultures.  


Rebecca VanVliet of The International Center
Rebecca VanVliet, The International Center’s marketing and communications director

Since its inception, The International Center has awarded nearly 200 grants through the Festival Fund. In 2019 (the most recent typical year pre-pandemic), 33 organizations requested $62,750 worth of grants to bring their programs and celebrations to life. The number of festival attendees approached 240,000, based on post-event evaluations submitted by grantees.  

“The Festival Fund allows us to use resources to support the smaller cultural groups and still make an impact on all aspects of international life in the Hoosier state,” said Rebecca VanVliet, The International Center’s marketing and communications director and administrator of the Festival Fund.  

By supporting these events, the Festival Fund strengthens connections between people of different backgrounds through the artistic expressions of music, visual art, food, and other entertainment. “It’s a joy to discover the many cultural and heritage events happening in our neighborhood — and an honor to have a small role in making those festivals happen,” VanVliet said. 


Women dancing at a SitEAW event
Women dancing at a SitEAW event

Founded in 2004 in Indianapolis, SitEAW raises money to sponsor girls and women in school so they can survive harmful traditions, trafficking, and premature marriage in Uganda and Kenya. Sister Stella Sabina began hosting drum circles in 2016 to raise funds for SitEAW’s mission by exploring the rhythms of all countries of the world. The Festival Fund is a repeat sponsor of these drum circles to support SitEAW’s work.

Dancers from the Polish School in Munster perform at the Polish Month Immersive Event in Indianapolis
Dancers from the Polish School in Munster perform at the Polish Month Immersive Event in Indianapolis

The Polish Cultural Society of Indiana aims to showcase the richness and diversity of Polish culture to Hoosiers. The organization is currently led by women, Małgorzata Gosia Kołtuniuk and Katarzyna Stewart, who collaborated with another female-led organization to host the first “Polish Month Immersion Event” at the Global Village Welcome Center.

The Festival Fund helped support the interactive exhibits at the event, including a singing and dancing group of students called Mala Polska (“Little Poland”) from the Polish School in Munster, folk craft artists, and a tasting from a Polish baker. 

Bayanihan Fiesta participants
Bayanihan Fiesta participants

Established in 2021, the Philippines Cultural Community Center works to unify the Filipino Community in Indiana and promote the culture and heritage of the Philippine Islands. Co-founder Marife Callender moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in the early 2000s and also serves as president of the Barangay Club of Indiana and chair of the Nationalities Council of Indiana. 

In October 2022, the Philippines Cultural Community Center hosted their first Bayanihan Fiesta with the assistance of the Festival Fund. In the Philippines, the Bayanihan spirit is one of unity and helping others. The event featured highlights of Filipino culture — dance, music, fashion, and food.   


As Indy’s global culture continues to expand and new nonprofits and cultural festivals are created and grow, The International Center’s Festival Fund and local celebrations like these can use support and involvement from Mavens like you.  

  • Contribute to The International Center’s financial capabilities to support cultural events by donating to the Festival Fund. With average grants around $2,000, a financial contribution of just $25 a month will help The Center fund an event’s cultural performers or ensure an event’s accessibility to all by eliminating ticket fees. 
    – Individuals can give online and mention the Festival Fund in your gift to direct the funds to support these celebrations.
    – Companies who wish to be involved in supporting events throughout the season can become a sponsor of the Festival Fund. Contact Mariya Plichta at for more information. 
  • Learn about the rich cultural heritage of our neighbors and guests and support local cultural groups by attending their events.
    – Keep an eye on The International Center’s calendar and newsletter to see what international events are upcoming in your area and share in the celebration with your family and friends.
    – This is a great way to allow mini-Mavens to participate and expand their knowledge about global culture — right here in our own backyard! 

Follow The International Center on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to learn more about their programs and upcoming events. 

Tiffany Hanson is an outreach and engagement professional committed to finding ways to embrace and support humans wherever she goes. You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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