BLOOMINGTON — A vibrant display of many cultures returned Saturday to Miller Park in Bloomington.
Dubbed the Cultural Fest, the event has celebrated diversity and heritage in the Twin Cities annually since 1979, according to program director Tony Jones.
He said the previous year’s event was scaled down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, he said, they wanted to bring it back to full speed.
“This used to be a three-day event,” the event program director said.
He said they intentionally host a variety of performances, in hopes that visitors will be exposed to something outside of their normal rounds.
“This year, I’m looking forward to the return of the ballet,” Jones said, noting that their performance requires more considerations, such as special flooring.
The festival featured 28 vendor tables from a range of businesses and organizations.
“What I really liked about the festival is that we have a variety of cultures that are represented,” said Elaine Hill, the vendor coordinator. “Not just one but everyone in the community. And everybody feels welcome.”
Hill performed gospel music herself with Giving All Praise, and was followed by belly dancing by Tenth Muse Dance. After that, McLean County Dance put on a tap dancing show, and there was another dance performance by BCAI Cultural Arts & Humanities. R&B band Unfinished Business closed out the afternoon.
USA Ballet Director Michelle Holmes-Bello said they’ve been part of the event “pretty much since its inception.”
She agreed the fest is a great experience for their performing students, while adding it also helps her teach them “that giving back to the community is extremely important.”
“Community involvement is one of the key foundations for the USA Ballet — our belief and our mission,” Holmes-Bello said. “Being part of this is just amazing. I really love it.”
Bloomington-born author Andrew Snorton returned to Miller Park from the Atlanta, Georgia, area to showcase his books. He said thanks to the fest, “people know there are good people and good things taking place in Bloomington-Normal.”
Snorton, who also appeared at a Juneteenth celebration earlier this summer, is selling copies of his book “Nothing Minor,” which he said focuses on minor league baseball with several interviews of Black players. A special section of the release highlights the Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum, and he said he sends a portion of proceeds to the museum as well.
Another vendor at the event was Sketchcustomtees. Owner Fallon Carruthers, of Bloomington, said she offered custom shirts, tumblers, mouse pads, and other items for small businesses.
Carruthers said she loved the festival because she got to meet new people, and got her son signed up with a martial arts organization. she said she also networked and enjoyed the entertainment.
“It’s pretty awesome,” she said.
The Project XV Museum was also present at the festival. Board member Tabitha Noward said their museum is restoring the El Paso barbershop of the first Black man to have ever voted in Illinois: David Storther.
She explained that one section of the in-progress museum at the Legacy Building, 1 W. Front St. in El Paso, will focus on civil rights, with another on women’s suffrage, as well as indigenous people. Opening is slated for 2024.
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Fellow board member Renee Thompson said community engagement at the festival has been wonderful for downstate Illinois.
“There’s just a lot of energy and passion behind it,” Thompson continued. “Voting rights are so important. We appreciate that we are honoring that legacy and we are going to engage and empower people as they move forward to continue to be involved in voting rights.”
She was out with the Bloomington-Normal Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which was registering people to vote at the event. First Vice President said Takesha Stokes said everyone has a choice and everyone has a vote.
“We are just encouraging people to be apart of the political process,” she said.
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The West Bloomington Revitalization Project’s Book Bike was also wheeled out to the festival to offer free books to kids. Board president Kristen Buhrmann said it was fun being at the event and having people stop by for the books.
“I see a lot of kids getting new backpacks, and so fill them up with new books too,” she encouraged.
Jajwanica Johnson, of Springfield, was also back at Miller Park since showing her wellness ware for Juneteenth earlier this year. And, she was previously at the Sunday Funday Market last month at the Vrooman Mansion.
The owner of S&J Wellness Products said she’s originally from Bloomington, and as an adult she had performed onstage at the festival with a dance group in the past.
“I’m so happy to be back at the park,” Johnson said, adding it’s great seeing all different cultures represented.
“It’s so varied out here,” she said. “It’s wonderful — I love it.”
Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison