Italian culture will take center stage at the first annual Arkansas Italian Food & Culture Festival Friday and Saturday, April 20-21, at the North Shore Riverwalk at North Little Rock.


“In reality, I’ve wanted to do a festival like this for many years,” said festival co-founder Patrick Presley. “I’ve long looked for a way to honor my mother’s family who came from Italy. Also, I’ve always believed that there was far more diversity in the American South than most of the country realizes or the history books have given us credit for.


“That’s also a key motivator for me personally. Part of that diversity is the role of Italian-Americans in Arkansas, which as a state we have a deep and rich history going back to Italians arriving in Lake Village, Tontitown, Center Ridge, Pine Bluff, Marion, Little Italy, and certainly Little Rock and North Little Rock. This is a great way to highlight that culture and history on many levels. And who doesn’t love Italian food?”


Presley said festival highlights include adult and youth soccer tournaments, bocce tournaments, a celebrity and kids grape stomp challenge, an Italian car exhibit, live entertainment, Italian music, and “of course food, food, and more food.”


Food offerings range from lasagna, pizza, and Italian beef to cannoli and zeppole. There will also be wine and beer. Along with this will be a VIP food tent catered by Ristorante Capeo that will have Northern Italian specialties on Friday and Southern Italian specialties on Saturday.


On Thursday, April 19, the festival kicks off with a documentary at the Clinton School of Public Service by Italian-American filmmaker Matteo Zengago called I Sopravvissuit (The Survivors) about the lives of Italian Americans in Arkansas and across the Delta.


Admission to the festival is $5 per person at the Willow Street entrance. Kids five and under get in free. All proceeds benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Central Arkansas.


“The impact of that alone can be potentially huge on so many levels to help kids have a better life and future, which in turns means a better future for our city and Central Arkansas,” Presley said.


The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism is a partner of the event. Details: www.ARItalianFestival.com.