By Megan Dooley
The Oak Park Arts District is upping the ante this year. Having decided that its annual art festival could use a little added pizzazz, the business association decided to go all out, and in just a few short months, threw together a true festival that will close off the eclectic strip of Harrison to traffic and cram it full of arts, eats, and entertainment suitable for the entire family.
The What's Blooming on Harrison Street festival is celebrating its eleventh anniversary this year, and was originally launched to bring some needed attention to the small, but certainly blooming, arts district.
Where in previous years the event has catered to an adult audience with a quieter stroll through shops and booths, this year's planning committee decided it was time to target a different demographic, and designed the festival to target both senior residents and tinier tots.
"It seemed like a normal fit to include a nod to Older American's Month," said Terry Mueller, arts district board vice president and owner of Creative Changes art studio on Harrison. For that reason, this year's theme was designated "Discover Silver," and will feature a celebrity throwback event: A Will Rogers tribute by performer Lance Brown.
"It's a festival, so there's going to be a lot for people to see and do," said Mueller.
The sight of Mr. D's "House of Magic," an antique gypsy wagon decorated with a wide range of colorful relics, should draw a crowd of curious spectators from among the younger festival-goers.
Olya Dailey, owner of Eastgate Café, said Mr. D's show became the perfect act to fill an entertainment slot at the festival, simply based on the illusionist's ability to modify his show to fit an audience of any age. The younger crowds will draw a more benign performance, while older kids will prompt some slightly more outlandish behavior.
"He does some pretty high-end tricks," said Christopher Wallace, who worked on the planning committee and co-operates Creative Changes studio with Mueller. He's even been known to feature animals he's carted around in his 1930s caravan.
Other features at the arts festival include live music that spans genres and fits a range of tastes, the presence of the Silver Mimes, who will trickle through the crowd and pose for pictures as requested. Then there are the Irish dancers, the tribal belly dancers, and the Hawaiian hula dancers to enhance the diverse menu of events. "There's so much more here than just art," said Mueller of the festival.
"It's almost like a little ethnic fest," said Dailey.
The overall goal, Mueller said, is to remind people of the unique resources they have lined up right in their backyard. This year, they hope the revitalized event will wow folks from 90 years old right on down to six, and keep the spirit of the arts district in the forefront. "The old approach didn't really put the arts district on the map in people's hearts, and minds," she said. "This is more of a community event."