Arts and Culture

Louisville marks Día de los Muertos with its annual downtown celebration Wednesday, featuring dancing, face painting and music at Fourth Street Live!

The holiday, celebrated largely in Mexico and the U.S. by people of Mexican descent, is a time to remember and honor those who have died. A key tradition is creating ofrenda, ornate altars for deceased loved ones. 

Manuel Medina, director of the University of Louisville’s Latin American and Latino Studies, said the department helped organize this year’s event and recruited college and Jefferson County Public School students to build the downtown ofrenda. 

“They [may] not really be sure about why their parents or their ancestors celebrate it, and this is helping them get involved in it,” he said. 

The students learn as they build, Medina continued, getting a deeper understanding of the details that go into every ofrenda: why certain flowers are traditionally used, why there are different layers and why sweets and/or food are placed on the altars.  

Medina said it gets students of all backgrounds “involved, engaged and understand the culture better.”

Art and performance are also at the center of this year’s Day of the Dead downtown event.

Mariachi bands and Louisville’s México Lindo, a dance group specializing in different styles of folklórico dance, are slated to perform. Also on the lineup is Actors Theatre of Louisville with an excerpt from the new play “La Egoista,” which is a part of the theater company’s recently announced spring season. 

“Getting to be around other Latinx artists and being able to share and support each other is something that I think comes really naturally in our little sector of the community,” said actor Marianne Zickuhr, who will perform in the “La Egoista” preview. “But it’s great to be able to share it with other people. And I think that’s what I’m most excited about.”

Medina, who has lived in Louisville for decades, said he’s thrilled to see the downtown event grow. But even more so, he’s excited that Mexican-American and Latino culture is more visible. 

“You can find altars in every section of the city,” said Medina, adding that Mexican restaurants across Louisville have been putting up their own intricate ofrendas and U of L has organized a display.  

“It used to be that we had to travel to Indianapolis to hire a band of mariachis,” he said. “So now we have more local choices, and bands and stuff. It’s great that we get a sense of diversity present in the city.”

Zickuhr hopes people come out to Fourth Street Live! Wednesday night “to experience everything, the flavor, the culture.”

“And I hope it inspires people to know that that flavor and culture are part of our city at all times.”

According to a news release, Mayor Greg Fischer will lead a dedication to leaders from the city’s Latino and Hispanic communities who died recently, as well as healthcare workers and others who died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This story has been updated. 

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.