Forest Park plays host to a handful of events each year that reliably draw huge crowds and perennially tease us with anticipation as their season grows near. Live music, parades, good food and lots of conversation with old friends and new neighbors are just a few of the attractions.
Events like Summerfest, the annual Holiday Walk and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade go a long way to helping residents feel proud of where they live. The community is fortunate that so many organizations are eager to put these festivals together and it seems yet another stellar event was born last weekend.
The Main Street Redevelopment Association hosted the first annual Forest Park Arts Fest over the course of two days, and early indications are that it was a hit. The crowds were good, kids got a kick out the magic shows and the craft tables, and business was booming for many of the merchants along Madison Street. The strength of this event hinged largely on the work put in by an Elmhurst consultant who assembled some 60 artists whose impressive range of talents and styles drew families from the far west suburbs. Hopefully these artists did well enough that it will be worth their while to come back.
The Arts Fest is a festival of a slightly different stripe for Forest Park, in that there were no beer vendors in the street and the wares being peddled ranged into the hundreds of dollars. Forest Park has roots as a blue collar town with an appreciation for softball, brews and inexpensive family fun. Main Street’s newest addition to the growing calendar of festivities appeals to residents with more disposable income and an interest in new cultural experiences.
These two crowds are by no means mutually exclusive, but it’s clear the community now needs a fair supply of wine and cheese in addition to hot dogs and beer.
Those who might prefer to see Forest Park hold firm to its working class roots would argue that an event showcasing pricey artwork does nothing for local families and serves only the financial interests of Madison Street businesses. The decision this time last year to cancel the longstanding Trick-or-Treat on Madison event is arguably further proof that the Arts Fest is essentially the condo high-rise coming in to squash the neighborhood bungalows.
Again, we would argue these tastes are not mutually exclusive.
Yes, Main Street screwed up last year in the way it cancelled the Halloween event, but there’s nothing to preclude business owners from setting out a candy dish to welcome all the little goblins and ghouls later this month. As for the business interests, Main Street’s purpose is both economic and community development. When things work right, they go hand-in-hand. Members recognize the desire for an iconic “Main Street.” The arts festival provided creative outlets as well as outright entertainment for kids and parents and a welcoming face to visitors just getting acquainted with the new urban suburban reality of Forest Park.