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story.lead_photo.caption Palermo, Italy is shown in this file photo.

Little Rock's exploration of a new sister city relationship with Sicily's capital kicked off Friday with a delegation from Palermo visiting the city.

The group -- which included an artist, a fashion designer, a tour operator and a chef from Palermo, Italy -- arrived in Arkansas' capital this week to take part in events centered on food and friendship, as well as meeting with members of the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission and others interested in a partnership.

Patrick Presley, a co-founder of the Arkansas Italian Food and Culture Festival, said the two cities have many similarities.

"Our diversity is our strength, just like diversity is their strength in Sicily," Presley said. "I think there's a real link that we can build on here."

[WEEK IN LR: Catch up with the biggest stories from Arkansas' capital city in this free newsletter » arkansasonline.com/emails/this-week-lr]

The Little Rock Sister Cities commission is responsible for developing guidelines and programs for relationships with cities in other countries. Chairman Denver Peacock said such partnerships seek to create opportunities for economic development, cultural awareness and youth exchanges.

Though Palermo is much larger than Little Rock, with a population of more than 5 million, representatives pointed to opportunities to collaborate in areas such as agrotourism -- taking visitors to a farm or a ranch -- and "slow food," a movement that promotes locally sourced products and traditional cooking that began in Italy.

The delegation includes famed Italian chef Giuseppe "Pino" Maggiore, who will teach a cooking class to students, faculty and guests at University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College on Monday. Marco Pomara, an art curator and a representative for Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando, and purse designer Giada Pavone displayed works and wares at an event Saturday night at Ristorante Capeo in downtown North Little Rock.

The Sister Cities Commission receives about $40,000 in funding annually from the city. Peacock said the commission is always excited to explore new opportunities but needs to be conscious of its budgetary limits and existing relationships.

He added that Little Rock at one time had a sister city relationship with Ragusa, a different Sicilian city, so a partnership with Palermo wouldn't be out of character. The commission is also exploring sister city relationships with cities in Mexico and sub-Saharan Africa, Peacock said.

Little Rock's sister cities currently include Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Hanam City, Korea; Changchun, China; Newcastle-Upon-Tyne; and most recently Caxias do Sul, Brazil. The partnership with the Brazilian city was established in 2017.

Palmero has two other sister city relationships in the United States, with Monterey, Calif., and Miami.

City Director Doris Wright, who represents Ward 6 and serves as a liaison to the Sister Cities Commission, said she would support the partnership.

"Of course we have to look at the budget, but I think it would be a good thing to do," she said. "Tourism would be a big boon for us with this."

Metro on 11/10/2019

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