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Omahans turn out for downtown festivals despite last weekend's violence
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Omahans turn out for downtown festivals despite last weekend's violence

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A festive atmosphere prevailed Saturday at two downtown Omaha events.

As temperatures climbed into the 90s, crowds poured into the area under sunny skies, headed to the Santa Lucia Italian Festival and the Omaha Summer Arts Festival.

Although a fatal shooting had taken place after another festival the week before, the crowd wasn’t deterred from heading downtown.

Jasmine Harris, 20, was killed and several other young people were injured June 2 after being caught in the crossfire of gang-related violence on their way home from the Taste of Omaha festival.

A week later, downtown was bustling.

At the Santa Lucia festival, tents along the riverfront selling pizza, garlic bread and meatballs blended in with carnival rides that remained from last weekend’s event.

Chuck Caniglia, organizer of the festival in its 94th year, said the event beefed up its security measures in response to safety concerns related to the shooting.

“The security has been fantastic,” Caniglia said. “We’ve got the sheriff’s deputies down here, we’ve got police patrolling around the area — we have no problems.”

Blocks away, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival drew crowds of people who perused booths lining Farnam Street along the Gene Leahy Mall where Harris was shot. Shoppers strolled in tank tops and shorts, clustered in patches of shade and slurped frosty lemonade to fend off the beating sun.

The sounds of music pulsing, children laughing and people conversing about art created a fun and friendly atmosphere, said Omaha artist Inna Kulagina, whose tent was decorated with her painted silk artwork.

Vendors from across the nation — 135 in total — descended on the streets to showcase paintings, sculptures, jewelry, clothing and more for the three-day festival.

Placards gave each artist’s hometown and included states like Florida, California, Minnesota and many places in between.

Kulagina said she had the strange realization that she was one of few local vendors.

“But I’m glad,” Kulagina said. “I enjoy the fact that people are from different states. It means they come to see Omaha, it means the city of Omaha is so gracious, supporting their art. I’m proud, this is my city providing something for them.”

Karin Carlson, who said she considers Omaha home, would have preferred more local vendors.

“I want to promote and help the Omaha community,” Carlson said. “And Lincoln and Nebraska.”

Carlson, who often visits the Old Market to eat or listen to music, said she had not heard a word about last Saturday’s shooting from anyone at the festival.

She said the shooting was “concerning” but not something she had thought about during Saturday’s festival.

“I came out here to see the art,” Carlson said. “That’s what this is about.”

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