Aurora Art Festival Returns Onsite After Being Forced Out By The Pandemic Last Year
An Aurora arts celebration found its way back home after venturing out to other parts of the city last year, due to the pandemic.
This past Saturday was hot and sweaty but most of the artists in the 11th annual Alley Art Festival played in their usual pre-pandemic spot.
Water Street Mall, which is the pathway between Downer Street and Galena Boulevard in the city’s downtown, is dubbed as the Alley. This is the area where most of the participants in the festival post up. Last year, the location was much less crowded with only a couple of artists scraping chalk across the concrete.
Marissa Amoni is the manager of Aurora Downtown. She said although most of the artists are back in their usual place there are still other things happening across the city.
“Jen Evans is partnering this year. She is the director of Aurora Public Art,” Amoni said. “She has created an amazing live mural installation that she's doing all around town.”
The murals embellish several buildings across the downtown area. The live installation coined “Bom Da Lot” took place at 14 Middle Ave.
Spray paint cans lined up on the concrete waiting for their time to shine as large graffiti letters took shape on boards across the lot.
Graffiti artist Syms started his creation that day. He said he tattooed his lettering across Chicago and other areas, but this was his first time legally drawing in the suburb.
“And just to add, we do graffiti art because we like drawing letters. We like blending colors,” he said. “There's no political message. There's no animosity. There's no other reason to do it than we like drawing letters.”
He added that he creates for other artists and not specifically for the public.
Photographer and face painter, Christopher Lucero, set up shop in the Alley. He said although the pandemic is still around, he is comfortable with hanging out in the familiar space again.
“I've seen a few people with facemask. I'm fully vaccinated,” he mentioned. “So, I'm going to hope most people are vaccinated as well. Um, but other than that, everybody seems to be enjoying the day.”
Lucero is working on a face painting and photography project that focuses on Dia de los Muertos -- in English, Day of the Dead – a Latin American celebration honoring deceased loved ones that originated in Mexico.
“So, what I like to do is interview someone. And in that interview, I find something that they want to discuss,” Lucero explained. “And that person writes a short 500-word summary. And based off of what they write, is the type of sketch I'll draw.”
He gives an example of a subject he interviewed in Africa.
“He was a Kilimanjaro tour guide,” he said. “I painted fire and water on his face, because for him climbing the mountain, you need a lot of energy — to him was fire. And he needed to stay hydrated the whole time, which is the water.
David Carey is from Geneva. He said he loves to support the people of Aurora. He was captivated by Lucero’s work.
“Well, my wife really was drawn in by one of these pictures,” he said. “And then I noticed that this looked like somebody else that dressed up for Halloween once, but this is done so much better. And I enjoyed it. And I really like this guy's work.”
Lizbeth Rios stood at an art booth wearing her banner for Mexicana Universal Aurora. She’s competing for the title of Mexicana Universal USA. Her art also encompasses a therapeutic element.
“I'm actually also a therapist at Mutual Ground," she explained.
Mutual Ground is a nonprofit that helps people deal with domestic violence, substance abuse and other issues.
"And so, I kind of wanted to incorporate those skills and kind of bring it into the art festival. I do believe that art is a way of expressing our emotions and our feelings.”
Those who stopped by her area got a chance to reflect on things they are grateful for during the pandemic. Some wrote notes on heart-shaped construction paper that Rios posted on a board.
“I had a teenager write that they love their makeup skills,” she added. “And then for the adults, one of the adults told me that they love their family, or they love like their good vibes. I really loved this one that said ‘I love my capacity to listen learn and grow and change.’”
The festival also included a belly dancing performance at Millennium Plaza and face-painting for kids by Gin Ingram. The graffiti from Bom Da Lot will stay up throughout the year. As time goes on, it will be replaced with other murals -- perhaps at the next Alley Art Festival.
- Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.