There was a time when Forest Park was seen, and rightly, as lacking an invigorating cultural life. Sure, 30 years ago there was the provocative and often outstanding Circle Theatre. But that place has been a mattress store for a decade.

Over that same decade, though, Forest Park has been shooting off sprigs and boughs of arts and culture in every dimension. It has brought energy and innovation and fun to this village while doing it in a very Forest Park way. No one is proposing a gigantic arts center and hiring executive directors. Instead, Forest Park is using the things at hand to invent a vibrant grassroots arts culture.

This is nonprofit entrepreneurial art that is accessible to everyone, that is welcoming to everyone.

And we’d start there. As Forest Park has become much more diverse — by race, gender, sexuality, faith, income, work — it has opened itself to art as a way to express that generous diversity.

We see it all around us. And we celebrate it.

The nascent Forest Park Theatre is performing Shakespeare in the Grove. For free. With financial backing from the village. Grandstands hauled over from The Park. Donations of supplies and physical work from local businesses. And they are playing to healthy and enthused audiences. The final weekend is coming up.

The Food Aid Festival is on deck with Exit Strategy leading the way in a project that is now expanding to include Oak Park. Music, food and money raised for local pantries.

Garage Galleries, one of the most Forest Park creations of all, will be back this month under the “Let’s try it. This could work” auspices of the Forest Park Arts Alliance. An art walk set in the ordinary garages of local folks. 

There’s a comedy club being planned for Madison Street in 2024. Emily Ramirez is working to make the BABS comedy club a reality. For adults, for children, as a learning place for aspiring performers, the club is going into a storefront at 7316 Madison St. And in keeping with much of Forest Park’s history, Ramirez and her family plan to live upstairs.

How about the No Gloves softball tournament? High culture in our book. And what a platform for the park district to shine. More than 100 volunteers make this multiple-day event happen. Arts and culture are driven by volunteers.

And let us not forget the art project on the Circle Avenue bridge, the ambitions and the energized outreach seen month by month from the Forest Park library, the creations of the historical society to see our village’s history through a fresh lens with their many events. Get ready for scarecrows. The Chamber and its design-driven Casket Races is art on wheels.

Hoping there is a new owner for Centuries & Sleuths who will maintain the creative focus of that independent bookstore. And there is the artistry of Forest Park’s growing and evolving restaurant scene. Creativity for certain. 

Arts build community. And watching arts in Forest Park rise from the grassroots is a great pleasure.