Inaugural Armenian Arts and Culture Festival Rocks Commerce Avenue

More than 5,000 people attend day-long event

By Eddie Rivera, News Editor

Despite one person’s concern over the lack of notice to the local business community, more than 5,000 people attended the inaugural Sunland-Tujunga Armenian Arts and Culture Festival. The day-long event on Commerce Avenue in Tujunga was held along the town’s historic commercial corridor on October 15.

“We chose this location because of the potential to activate this historic core while bringing the community together in a celebration of Armenian art and culture,” said festival co-organizer Edwin Miranian, a small-business owner on Commerce Avenue.

The 80-plus vendors included a mix of Armenian artisans, local small businesses and organizations, and vendors from all over the Los Angeles area. A “kids’ zone” featured a petting zoo, games, and arts and crafts. Traditional dance and music entertained the crowds into the night.

A “health zone” also provided residents with free health screenings, spine checks, and acupuncture. The event also showcased classic cars and motorcycles.

In addition, a number of the board members of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC), including STNC president Krystee Clark, attended the event to conduct outreach.

Thanks to an Arts Activation Fund grant through the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs, admission to the event was free.

“The festival was an opportunity to also showcase the neighborhood we love and live in while embracing the diversity within our community,” said Christine Jerian, co-chairperson of the Sunland-Tujunga chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Festival Organizers

Festival Organizers (From L-R: Christine Jerian, Shooshig Avakian, Sonia Tatulian, Edwin Miranian, Kat Juarez)

Sonia Tatulian of The Foothill Record, which co-sponsored the event, said, “It was a privilege being a part of the team that brought this festival to life, as we had a vision for our community and we worked with intention to bring that vision to life. With determination and commitment, this team worked relentlessly, in a short amount of time, to bring our community together so we can all learn more about each other by celebrating the diversity of our city.”

But all was not as smooth as organizers hoped, weeks before the planned festival.

Festival permit organizer Tatulian (Full disclosure: Tatulian is the owner and publisher of The Record) spent September 7 gathering approval signatures from Commerce Avenue business owners whose businesses are open on Saturdays and who might be affected by the event.

Also, on September 13, Tatulian visited the Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce board of directors meeting to announce the event and distribute flyers. Former chamber president Cindy Cleghorn, owner of C&M Printing on Commerce Avenue, also was in attendance.

“Cindy asked me for a digital copy of the flier and had no other questions,” said Tatulian.

The next evening, Tatulian visited the monthly STNC meeting and announced the festival to the public. Cleghorn also was in attendance at that event, and she made no public comment regarding the planned festival.

Tatulian then, on September 15, received an email from the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services that read “Please contact Cindy Cleghorn of C&M Printing and Copying at 818-353-7135 regarding community outreach to the local vendors impacted by your intended closure.”

Returning from a meeting with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Tatulian and STNC treasurer and festival co-organizer Shooshig Avakian then phoned Cleghorn. Said Tatulian, “At first she [Cleghorn] was shocked that we knew she had reported us, and then once the shock wore off, she was trying to tell us how we should form committees, and address the vendors.”

Children enjoying the kids’ show

According to Tatulian, Avakian informed Cleghorn that all of that work had already been completed, with all of the Commerce Avenue businesses that are open on Saturdays having already signed off on the event.

Cleghorn claimed to also be open on Saturdays, but a screenshot of her business website showed that her business was closed on Saturdays. By the following day, the website had been changed to show that her business was open on Saturdays.

“She did not have any questions for us, she said was busy, so she hung up on us,” said Tatulian.

Tatulian next received a phone call on October 11 from a Street Services investigator, informing her that Cleghorn had sent in 15 questions to a department director, concerned that the festival organizers had reached out to her and that she was concerned about vendors not being notified.

Tatulian then emailed Cleghorn directly: “We have had meetings with each and every business owner and tenant, who is open on Saturday.…In your response today I do not see a single question that you need an answer to. So I will ask again, what questions do you have?”

Traditional Armenian Wedding Performance

Cleghorn wrote back: “Your flyer handout at both the chamber and STNC meetings have been the ONLY way I found out that this event is even taking place. When Shoosig [Avakian] called me she rudely told me that they do not have to tell me anything about this event and used the excuse of my being closed according to my website. I asked her then and I still ask now for a meeting of Commerce Avenue owners and tenants so we can all know what will be taking place, when, where and times.

“There are many questions,” Cleghorn added.

“I have an active business on Commerce,” Cleghorn continued, “and it’s rude to not reach out to the business owners on Commerce overall. This is a community event so I understand and not a private one. Outreach is the highest priority to engage all so there will be a successful, safe and joyous event for everyone. My concerns are valid concerns and I hope to receive answers. I look forward to a meeting with City Street Services staff wherein all can be made public so everyone knows overall.”

Meanwhile, reports that petitions against the “Armenian only” festival had been circulated and signed could not be verified by The Record.

The Record attempted to contact Cleghorn for further comment, but she refused to answer any questions, questioning the reporter’s neutrality.

“You’re involved with the newspaper that helped to sponsor the event,” said Cleghorn. “I would be happy to talk to anyone else, but not you.”

According to Tatulian, one other Commerce Avenue business had expressed concerns about the festival, but those concerns were resolved following a personal meeting. The event itself received no complaints, other than one noise complaint from a local neighbor.

Following the event, STNC president Clark told The Record, “The Armenian Cultural Festival gave Sunland-Tujunga a chance to interact with the food, fashion, music, and dance of a growing part of our foothill community. It was a perfect partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs that helped broaden our understanding and create local camaraderie.”

Festival participant, local animal-activist, and STNC board member Dana Stangel added, “I loved it. It was amazing to have such a rich cultural festival right here in Sunland-Tujunga. I loved the food, I loved the music. I loved the warmth and welcome I felt there. It was especially refreshing to watch new community leaders stepping up to organize something different here. Sunland-Tujunga is a better place for events like this in our community. I cannot wait for next year.”

Festival organizers and other volunteers stayed at the location until past midnight, sweeping and cleaning Commerce Avenue.

Organizers say the festival will become an annual event.

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