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By Anna Lothson
The five hand-crafted butterflies currently strapped to trees on Harrison Street appear to be right at home in the Oak Park Arts District.
The already eclectic mix of shops, cafes and studios in the quiet street huddled among busy intersections has an identity of its own for those who have embraced the culture of the street. But Olya Dailey — owner of Eastgate Café, who serves on the neighborhood district's board — said the street that was hidden for so many years still needs exposure.
"It's getting harder and harder to organize with less and less money," Dailey said. "This is giving opportunities to Oak Park artists. … Art is not a free item."
This year, she did some brainstorming when she took over the annual What's Blooming on Harrison Art Festival about how to bring new life to the street.
That's where the butterflies came in.
"I thought if we had something so unique, so pretty, then maybe we could attract more people to our event," Dailey said about the 3-foot wing-spanned, handmade, colorful creations that sit about 10 feet above the street in trees. "All of the puzzle pieces starting fitting together."
The festival kicks off this weekend on Friday, May 25, from 6-10 p.m., and runs 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday.
The butterflies came from Highland Park's "Magical Garden" exhibit, where Dailey drove last week to transport them to Oak Park. They'll be on display this summer and eventually auctioned off.
Another aspect new to this year's event is the Windows with a View art exhibit that consists of 20 recycled windows transformed by local artists. They'll be on display Saturday until 6 p.m. at RK Management, 229 Harrison St.
The exhibit involves work that combines various media into colorful art pieces that, instead of being tossed out, were salvaged from old buildings to be repurposed.
"As a property management company, we are really heavily invested in the arts," Jacqueline Arica, general manager of the company said. "In general, I think that community involvement goes hand-in-hand with managing properties."
Local art, she said, is a "personal passion" of the group, and being part of the festival is a way to celebrate the longtime tenants the group houses in the district.
The street fest will keep stores open later and will host artists and vendors for the nine- block stretch just west of Austin Boulevard. More than 50 artists will showcase their work while groups like African dancers and live blues and jazz bands keep the crowd buzzing. A diverse selection of food vendors will be on site, along with a beekeeper and children's entertainer.
The planning for this event is never easy, but Dailey said she thinks this year's festival will set a new standard. Support from the community, she said, is growing and vendors wanting to participate are on the rise.
"The Arts District is not just a name on a map," Dailey said. Like the festival's name suggests, Harrison Street continues to bloom and the event is a reflection of that. "It's a street that's getting a little more dimension."
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