The International Festival began in 1976 under the management of the, which shepherded its growth for 12 years. In 1988, management shifted to the . The International Festival was modeled after similar events held in Cincinnati and Milwaukee. The and the have served as sites for the festival.
Management principles have remained the same throughout the life of the festival with the cultural focus provided by the ethnic member groups of the Nationalities Council. The festival provides a platform for these groups to showcase their contributions to the culture, history, and economy of Indiana. Over 50 ethnic and cultural organizations belong to the Nationalities Council of Indiana. Each year over 3,000 ethnic volunteers representing over 50 countries create culture/country displays highlighting language, art, native dress, and geography; demonstrate unique ethnic or cultural art forms; provide ongoing ethnic music and dance.
The International Festival is the Nationalities Council’s signature event and largest community outreach program. Festival dates are timed to coordinate with International Education Week, an initiative sponsored annually by the U.S. State Department. One of the primary missions of the festival is to provide students and teachers with an enriching cultural and educational experience. The three-day event during International Education Week has special hours on Thursday and Friday reserved for schools. Each year almost 6,000 students/teachers “travel” the festival equipped with passports and educational materials specifically created for the event.
Each year the festival partners with the U.S. District Court to host a Naturalization Ceremony that presents citizenship certificates to several hundred new U.S. citizens. Representatives from the U.S Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives attend the ceremony to witness and congratulate the newly naturalized citizens.
Typically held during International Education Week, the festival is open to the general public and attracts 10,000 people (2019). In 2020, the event was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.