By Kelly Pollack, feature writer for the Buzz Cafe
Twenty years ago, the originators of the What’s Blooming on Harrison street festival could not have envisioned the all-day community event that it has become. This year’s festival is on Saturday, May 18, from 11am-7pm and spans Harrison Street from Humphrey to Cuyler.
This wouldn’t be the Oak Park Arts District without an emphasis on art and What’s Blooming will not disappoint. Over 120 vendors are participating and many of them are artists and craftspeople who have been coming for several years. Mael Cabarrus whose Petina Paintings “capture your pet in a painting” loves when previous customers stop by to say hello and thank her. She values the “organic and personal interactions” at What’s Blooming as compared to the anonymity of online transactions and is looking forward to participating again this year. In addition to Chicagoland area vendors, OPAD members are encouraged to set up booths in front of their businesses.
New this year is a raffle of three fine art pieces by local artists Ken Reif, Marion Sirefman, and Michael Miller. The works will be displayed at the OPAD booth and tickets are just $5 each.
Several music venues will provide all-day entertainment. In addition to the Main Stage, there will be a Family Stage, an Acoustic Stage, and two indoor performance spaces at DKT and Val’s halla Records. Headliner The King of Mars will perform on the Main Stage at 7pm and the Taylor Avenue Beer Garden will remain open until 9pm.
Family-friendly activities will bookend the festival. The Family Stage is new this year and will anchor the east end of Harrison at Humphrey. According to Laurel Wolff, the Marketing Coordinator for the Oak Park Arts District, “This is children’s programming that is by kids and for kids.” OPAD performers will include the Oak Park String Academy, The Actors Garden, and Musikgarten. Families will also find fun at the Children’s Carnival which will be at the west end of the festival near Cuyler.
Rafael Nieves, aka Unca Raffy, first attended What’s Blooming with his family six years ago but, “We enjoyed it so much that we had to be a part of it!” Rafael sells items that feature landmarks from the Western Suburbs in a style reminiscent of the Art Deco and WPA movements. Rafael has now been a vendor for several years and will enjoy the day with his wife and young daughter.
Food and drink will be available from OPAD restaurants and the Beer Garden is always popular. “This will be our third year with beer and it’s been a game changer,” says Laurel. “We needed a good partner and we have one in Oak Park Brewing Company.”
While the emphasis is on art, music, family, food, and fun, it’s important to remember that What’s Blooming on Harrison is the only annual fundraiser for the Oak Park Arts District. The money raised will go towards providing some “wants” for the district including more public art, holiday decor, and new signage. While most vendors accept credit cards, the carnival and raffle are cash only.
Susan Lechner of SunshineIsHappiness paints business-card-sized magnets and sums up the feeling of community at What’s Blooming this way, “There is a special camaraderie among the artists that makes you feel like you are part of something truly unique. Every year I walk away and am smiling for days at what a wonderful time I had.”