06 Oct A Day in Avondale: Feeling Part of the City
Article by Annmarie Handley
Photos by Keith Handley
Today, I felt a part of my city again. My family and I spent the afternoon exploring Milwaukee Avenue with “A Day in Avondale,” an Avondale Neighborhood Association sponsored event that brought together local businesses, arts organizations, high schools, actors, painters, performance artists, musicians, grassroots community programs, politicians, and Chicagoans of all ages and cultures. Because of the rainy October morning, we started our journey at the Hairpin Arts Center, where we were welcomed warmly by organizers, given an itinerary of vendors, performances, and participants, and a map of the historical Avondale neighborhood. It felt almost like being on a vacation tour, but we’d only driven ten minutes from our Chicago home.
As always, my husband and I oohed and aahed over the building entryway and stairwell leading into the Center—it hadn’t been modernized and featured a tile mosaic of a camel in the doorway, brass railings, dim, old-fashioned lighting, and marble stairs. The charm of old buildings is one of the things we love most about our city, and after ascending the dim hallway to the second floor, the door opened to a completely different feeling.
Shakespeare was being performed to our right, and the lead actor was in the throes of death. My four-year-old daughter was enthralled with the wooden sword and long, red, silk scarf that stood in for the real thing. Her eyes boggled as the moon stepped forward for his monologue and the narrator articulated her lines with authority. It seemed like audience members may have been chosen to perform briefly as well—the stage felt very inclusive and alive with anticipation. The Shakespeare All-Stars were professional and congenial. It was obvious they love what they do.
Next was the pop-up mini golf course made by artists from Lion vs Gorilla. Both my eleven-year-old, my four-year-old, and the many other kids ranging from toddler to teen enjoyed the Candy Land hole, the Fairy Princess hole, the Disco hole, and my favorite, the Lawn Mower Blooper hole, featuring a stuffed version of a man (perfect for Halloween) laid flat over the top of his lawnmower, feet up. Now, I’m giving all the creative mini-golf stations names they didn’t display, but I can’t help it. The game wasn’t high-budget, but it was fun, creative, and inviting.
Vaudezilla actors were dressed in their most decadent vaudeville attire to talk about their shows, burlesque and belly-dance classes, bachelorette parties, and to give away fancy prizes for adults and candy for the kiddies. We were sorry to have missed their later performances—we heard they were wonderfully racy. Concordia Lutheran Church was there making buttons (my kids made six) and telling people about their wonderful upcoming events—Silent Movie Night featuring Charlie Chaplin and a real, live pipe organist (our next date night), Trunk or Treat, Gingerbread Tea, and Christmas Caroling. Mama Lupita’s Salsa blew me away with three varieties that were very different–a mild green tomatillo salsa, a red, fresh but flavorful variety, and my absolute favorite, a yellow habanero original of which I had to purchase a jar (thank you, Mama Lupita!). (for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org) There were kids from “buildOn teens” sponsoring face painting who were big-brotherly and -sisterly to my girls and eager to meet the community.
The room in the Hairpin Arts Center was bright, airy, and cheerful on an otherwise gloomy October Saturday. Since the building is on the corner of three intersecting streets, the floor-to-ceiling windows surrounded the gathering with light. There were people from ages three to seventy-three, talking, checking out the vendors, and enjoying the activities. As I gazed out at the surrounding businesses, The Gap, Footlocker, and Baskin Robins, I was happily reminded that big business isn’t the main attraction in our wonderful Chicago neighborhoods; the small business owner and resident artisans still reign supreme.