Polish Heritage Festival is a tradition of over 40 years! It is a great occasion to demonstrate pride in our cultural heritage and to share this moment with others. In 2017 we have moved to our new great location – Middlesex County Fairgrounds at 655 Cranbury Road in East Brunswick, NJ. It is a beautiful green space, excellent to spend a day outdoors with your family and friends, celebrate our Polish-American heritage, enjoy live music and great authentic Polish food.
The festival has two main goals. One is to celebrate and preserve our culture and the other is to use the festival proceeds toward sscholarship funds for our Polish-American youth.
Although the festivals started in 1971, their origin goes back to the mid 1950’s when the New Jersey Highway Authority conceived a plan to build an outdoor cultural center in Holmdel, NJ. This plan was realized in 1968 when the Authority unveiled the Garden State Arts Center, a 5,000-seat amphitheater with lawn seating for additional 2000 persons. In 1997 the administration changed the name from “Garden State” to “PNC Bank” Arts Center.
The center soon became a show place for cultural events and John P. Gallagher, then Chairman of the New Jersey Highway Authority and the one credited with initiating the festivals, felt that, because of the state’s large and diverse ethnic community, heritage festivals would be popular and that the new art center would be an attractive venue for them. With the help and guidance of Frederick W. Weck, Cultural Center Fund Administrator, the festivals began in 1971 with the Irish and Italians. In subsequent years they included the Polish, German, Ukrainian, Chinese, Jewish, Afro-American, Slovak, Scottish and Scandinavian communities.
The New Jersey Highway Authority invited the Polish American Community to participate in the heritage festivals in 1971. Representatives of the many Polish-American organizations gathered to discuss the merits of the Authority’s invitation. These representatives determined to accept the invitation and elected Reinhold Smyczek of the Polish American Congress as Chairman of the first Polish American Heritage Festival to be held on June 4, 1972.
The initial festivals consisted of classical, semi-classical and popular entertainment that was performed on the big stage of the amphi-theater. The mall activities constituted only a small part of the overall festival program. In 1980, when the attendance in the amphi-theater fell, the mall activities were expanded to attract greater audiences. Despite a drop in theater attendance the average combined attendance (theater and mall) has averaged more than 5,000.