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Children's Festival organizers excited as Family Weekend approaches

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As far as family-oriented events are concerned, there's aren't too many the magnitude of this week's Flint Hills 2013 International Children’s Festival in and around the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul -- and the director of the event, Dayna Martinez, couldn't be more proud.

"There are festivals in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and really, that's about it for the U.S. And while there are bunch of Children's Festivals across Canada, our Children's Festival is one of the biggest in North America," says Martinez, who is also the director of World Music and Dance at the Ordway. "I get contacted every day from artists all over the world -- Europe, Asia, everywhere -- who want to be part of our festival. It gives us a lot to choose from worldwide who are part of the International Children's Festival circuit. We've become a big name."

The Children's Festival officially got underway Tuesday with School Days -- where through Friday more than 15,000 school kids from across Minnesota and western Wisconsin will attend a variety of indoor and outdoor events at the Ordway, including China's "Cirque Ziva" show and Australia's Sway Poles performers.

More:Ordway CEO discusses Children's Festival events

The festival culminates Saturday and Sunday with Family Weekend -- where people of all ages can attend outdoor events for free and indoor events for $5. And while bulk of the attendees are from Minnesota, Martinez says people from everywhere are welcome to attend.

"Last year, this woman who used live here a few years ago and now lives in New Mexico called me about taking pictures of the acts on the outdoor stages, which is completely OK," Martinez said. "She doesn't have any kids, but she loves the festival so much she comes back to it every year. Our little event has gotten pretty well known."

Using the word "little" is a humble assessment by Martinez, however. Now in its 13th year, the Children's Festival annually attracts more than 50,000 people to the downtown area, so getting the city to help with logistics is key since the festival tends to run concurrently with another great St. Paul tradition.

"Grand Old Day 90 percent of the time falls on the same weekend and it does again this year, but it's a great problem to have, especially in the summer months," said Joe Spencer, director Arts & Culture for the City of St. Paul "Besides, the Ordway does such a phenomenal job curating the event. It's one of the premiere events of the year in St. Paul."

Video below: A closer look at the Children's Festival

Trafficwise, Spencer doesn't anticipate any problems because of the event, even on Sunday.

"It's not our first rodeo. It's been this way every year, so we really have it down to a really slick system," Spencer says. "I typically attend both events, and don't experience any more traffic congestion or headaches than you would have any other day, business day, or weekend coming into downtown St. Paul or over in the Grand Avenue area."

As far as public safety is concerned, Spencer says the city has all the bases covered.

"The way traffic rolls down 5th Street, things are well-patrolled," Spencer said. "We've got officers out helping people across the street and keeping people safe. It's a big event, and anytime you have tens of thousands of people around you want to make sure you have a good security plan."

Specifically discussing the Children's Festival, Spencer says the experience has been nothing but smooth.

"An event like this is so easy to police, obviously because you don't have 10-year-olds who are over-served or anything like that," Spencer said with a laugh. "But seriously, people tend to come down to this event want to be in a community situation with one-another. The way the activities work, you tend to meet people you didn't know before because your kids may end up working on a project together. There's a tremendous sense of community in the event, and by the time you go home, you feel like you know everybody there."

Even though the Children's Festival involves virtually every employee at the Ordway, Martinez says they get back every amount of effort they put into the event.

"It nourishes us as a staff. It's everybody's favorite time of year," Martinez enthused. "Even though it's a lot of work, and even though there are so many details to worry about with budgets and whatever, it's just so wonderful having so many people downtown -- kids and adults, parents and grandparents, you name it -- down here having fun."

Another reason Martinez loves the Children's Festival is that it serves as reminder how closely Minnesota communities are connected with the arts scene.

"We've got theater, puppetry and all kinds of music here. It's a wonderful place to live," Martinez says. "I moved to New York for a short time from 2002 to 2003, but I really missed the Twin Cities. Of course with New York you have all the diversities and cultures, too, but in the Twin Cities, if you're an arts presenter, you can actually connect the communities so much better. It's so much smaller and such a close community here."

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