Annual Georgian celebration in Atlanta
14 June, 2012
Annual Georgian celebration in Atlanta

- Whom do you work for?
- Myself.
- That cannot be. You must be a government puppet.
- No, really, this was my idea.
- Cannot be, you must be in the oppositions pocket.
- I am not in anyone’s pocket; I have my own pockets, thank you very much.
- Then you must be crazy.
- That is entirely a matter of opinion.

When I first suggested to my friends that we should

introduce an annual Georgian celebration in Atlanta, GA, the majority consensus was that I must be a little off my head to even consider something like that, let alone to expect help from anyone in the Georgian community. But I was on a mission to prove one extremely pervasive and disturbing idea that Georgians do not like working together, wrong.  But with no real help from anyone, I decided to host the event through a non-profit I had set up earlier called Everything Georgian, Inc which focuses on promoting Georgian contemporary arts and culture abroad. I applied for a permit with the city of Atlanta to hold what I hoped would become an annual Georgian Cultural Festival. Applying for the permit was the easy part, convincing the Board of Directors of EG that this was indeed a good idea was fairly painless too, but everything else was like pulling teeth.
First came the non-believers and conversations like the one above that questioned not only my earnest desire to celebrate being Georgian, but my very existence. I was accused of appearing out of nowhere, of trying to instigate things; I was even warned no one would come because the Festival wasn’t sanctioned by the Georgian government. One email to me actually stated that I should respect those who have been in the States for many years, and that I should have consulted them before I went over their heads. I had phone calls from people who thought I should wait and hold a meeting with ‘town elders’ to ask their opinion on the festival. I even got a call from a person who was so convinced the festival was going to fail, that she was outright telling people not to show up. After all that a normal person would have thought, ‘this is pointless, and too emotionally exhausting’ and would have thrown in the towel. Good thing I am not normal but a product of a Guruli mother and Megreli father, so what were they expecting to happen?  Exactly.
First we set up a Kickstarter project that focused on gathering donations for the Festival. The donations came from everywhere, from Dubai to San Francisco, and we were overwhelmed with good wishes and excited emails congratulating us on our endeavors. Even the skeptical Board members were starting to get into the spirit.
I had worked for months on getting application for the Special Outdoor Event passed through the City of Atlanta, and it was a nightmare, but without it, our finances wouldn’t have been able to afford a venue. We tried to attract sponsors, but for an unknown first year festival, there really wasn’t much of a chance for that.
We asked for some sort of help or recognition from all sorts of government outlets. We had written to the Georgian Embassy in D.C., no word back. We emailed and emailed the Georgian Ministry of Tourism, Economy, and Culture. We must have worn them out, emailing ministers and secretaries, because I finally got an email back stating that yes, we have received your emails, but that was it. Mind you, no one was asking them for money. All we thought to ask for was Georgian maps and maybe some display items for the Festival’s Information desk. We finally got the help through Discover Georgia, a non-governmental agency who shared our enthusiasm for the Festival, and who also saw the possible potential in growing their business through this event.
From daily squashing of another rumor or call about the impossibility of the festival succeeding, to the city of Atlanta throwing in yet another permit to pay for, it was a rollercoaster ride. I was lucky, I had my Board of Directors, my family and many friends, and both Georgian and non-Georgian stand behind me. We started a Facebook page for Georgians in Georgia, and slowly but surely we started getting members who were excited about the upcoming Festival. When I picked up the phone, it was no longer to defend the Festival, but instead to accept the offers of help and good wishes. Even those who were at first offended at the audacity of someone new (term that still weirds me out, because I’ve been in the States for over 20 years now) having a voice they hadn’t sanctioned, even they were donating to the festival budget and offering help. 
Not to say there were no problems, on the contrary, the whole experience was turning from one problem corner to another. The hired tent company went out of business. The liquor license was held up by the State of Georgia Liquor license board because we were trying to import Georgian wine and that needed a special permit. Just another way to make money, I understand, but come one! The musicians we hired refused to play Georgian songs, the dancers needed a stage we couldn’t afford, and suddenly the entire city of Atlanta ran out of grapes we needed for grape stomping activity for kids. I got on the phone, got a new company for tents. Went to city hall and begged for an expedited wine and beer license. After a day of thinking and calling in favors from American and Georgian friends in the wine industry, I figured out a way around the ‘no out of state liquor’ license deal. Delegated the musician problem to my sister and ran to Home Depot to build a dance floor. We were over the budget thousands of dollars ago, but everything else was on track. Even found grapes. So what, that they were white? Kids didn’t care.
Finally, two weeks before the festival, four kilos lost from all the worrying, I woke up and checked the weather update on my phone. My heart sank. For months I have been checking the weather prognosis, and it was supposed to be sunny and warm, I was counting on that. Now it was threatening with 60% thunderstorms. I freaked out.
You can’t control everything, I was told, but I didn’t agree. I bounced around the house like a crazed Tazmanian Devil, biting everyone’s heads off. What to do, what to do? Would a dance to Sun God be appropriate about now? I did the only thing I could do, and ordered bigger tents to cover the venue in case of the rain. I also did a little dance, just in case. (I must have over done it, because the day of the event it was actually not a shade, not a drop, but instead hot, merciless sun.)
Three months later, ton of paperwork, lots of fees and headaches and near scares we were ready to face the music. I am happy to say that the first annual Georgian Cultural Festival went off without a hitch. By all accounts it was a success and everyone who came was thrilled (their words, not mine) and everyone who didn’t come was sad to have missed it, but they will get another chance next year when everything Georgian hosts the second annual Georgian Cultural Festival in 2013 in Atlanta, GA.

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