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Sneak Peak: The Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival (MAAF) 2011

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. Promotional Flyer. Logan Square, Chicago Illinois. 2011. (Image Courtesy of Cara Dehnert)

Beginning on Friday, July 29th the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival (MAAF) will have finally arrived. And what better way to learn about the history and significance of this event and why it shouldn’t be missed then from Cara Dehnert Huffman, Director of the non-profit organization I AM Logan Square.

Sixty featured Cara last February highlighting the inception of I AM Logan Square. Since then, Cara has been rigorously working on the entire production of the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. From coordinating sponsorships, local food vendors, trolley rides, volunteers, exhibition and venue spaces, curators and live entertainment, Cara has pulled all stops that will make this year’s festival a hit for the neighborhood and local attendees.

Below is a brief interview pointing out some of her experiences and reasons why this festival is important for the Logan Square community.

You are the director of I AM Logan Square, one of the main organizations behind the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival (MAAF) and this is your first year with the organization. What has it been like coordinating such a large festival only being one year into MAAF?

It’s been really fun! Luckily, I am fortunate to work with amazing people– from volunteers to my own staff to the various art committees who have presented the festival in the past. Of course it’s a lot of work, but seeing the arts and community come together for such an incredible event is really inspiring.

What originally initiated MAAF?

A Logan Square Arts Festival started many years ago in Palmer Square as a grassroots type festival. When it outgrew Palmer Square, Alderman Colon took the initiative and moved it to Milwaukee Avenue. This is the MAAF’s third official year and second year being presented by I Am Logan Square.

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Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. Logan Square, Chicago Illinois. 2010.

How is the festival different this year?

In many ways, the festival is the same as the past two years. We still have 30+ independently curated art galleries showcasing over 200 artists in storefronts all along Milwaukee Avenue. We still have stages hosting the best of Chicago’s local music and performance art throughout the entire festival and it’s still family friendly.

But there have been some changes– our co-presenting sponsor this year is Revolution Brewery. It is important to us to keep it as local as possible and Revolution Brewery has been an unbelievable partner in the neighborhood. We are also having sangria from Lula Cafe and wine for our newest wine bar, Telegraph!

The festival is (like always) free (with a suggested donation of $5/day), but this year we’re also selling wristbands for $10 that provide 3-days of admission as well as discounts and promotions at many local businesses. This program is unique to the MAAF and we’re hoping that it gives back to our attendees who support the festival as well as showcase all the amazing organizations and businesses we have in Logan Square! The bracelets will be available at the fest and all participating organizations can be found on the MAAF’s website, www.milwaukeeavenueartsfestival.org.

Also, this year is the inauguration of the Logan Square Arts Center. It is an 8,000 square foot, multi-genre arts center programmed by our friends, the Logan Square Chamber of Arts, located in the Hairpin Lofts at Kimball and Diversey!

Where exactly is the festival located?

The festival is located along Milwaukee Avenue from California to Kimball. It’s a big festival! Don’t worry– there are programs available with a detailed map showing where everything is located and a complimentary trolley for those that don’t want to walk the entire 1.7 miles!

What has/will this festival do specifically for the Logan Square community?

Part of I Am Logan Square’s mission is to connect the community with the arts, and we feel that this festival will do just that! We have such an incredible neighborhood (voted #1 by the Reader, after all!), and the MAAF really brings everyone together in such a unique and incredible way. We hope that this festival provides entertainment and a connection with our artistic community for all Logan Square residents and beyond!

What do you think it will demonstrate to those who do not live in Logan Square?

We have no doubt that it will demonstrate why the Chicago Reader voted us #1! Chicago is home to over 400 summer street festivals, and just like Logan Square, the MAAF is unlike any other. We hope that it will demonstrate the vibrancy of our creative community as well as the quality of local businesses that we have here! There is a reason that there is an overwhelming sense of pride in our neighborhood among long time residents and new comers alike.

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Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. Logan Square, Chicago Illinois. 2010.

How has this festival supported art in Logan Square?

Like I said, we have over 30 independently curated galleries showcasing over 200 artists! Plus, in addition to the many stages and performance venues, the galleries also host live music and performance art. We’ve all worked hard to align artistic genres together so that our attendees will be exposed to visual, performance and musical art all at the same time. Like Logan Square, the festival’s strengths are in its diversity and its ability to combine different genres in a complementary way.

Are all the participants (artist, curators, performers etc.) from this community or are some of them from other areas of Chicago?

They are from many areas of Chicago but over half are from Logan Square. Our art committees, who jury applicants, make a concerted effort to showcase artists from the neighborhood while maintaining a high level of artistic quality. Luckily, we have so much talent here that that isn’t too hard!

If you had to give somebody one reason to come to MAAF 2011, what would that reason be?

The arts! Okay, that’s an unfair response as I’m cheating by sweeping visual, performance, musical, culinary and all the other multitude of arts into one answer. But really, there are so many reasons to attend the MAAF so choosing just one is next to impossible!

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Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. Nothing Less Cafe. Logan Square, Chicago Illinois. 2010.

What has it been like working with community sponsors?

It’s been GREAT! We have been really fortunate to have such involved and generous partners in the neighborhood. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are absolutely thrilled to have so many local organizations and businesses involved in the fest.

What have you learned from bringing this festival to life that you didn’t necessarily know before?

I had no idea how many moving parts are entailed in festivals! I certainly have a newfound appreciation for all events of this size.

I have also learned how dedicated Logan Square residents are to volunteering. I am truly overwhelmed by the efforts made by our volunteers. This event would not be the incredible experience it is without their time, sweat and enthusiasm. To all of our volunteers– I cannot thank you enough.

Do you know if any opportunities for the participants have come up just from being involved with MAAF?

I know that several of the empty storefronts that loaned their locations to the MAAF in the past have subsequently been rented by attendees. This is a double-edged sword for us– it’s great for our neighborhood, but as years go by, we’re running out of gallery spaces!

Other than that, I have no doubt that the MAAF provides a great opportunity for networking and career development for artists. It also provides a unique chance for the community to connect with and be exposed to the arts! The festival has grown significantly from year to year, and we’re now able to include more artists than ever!

What is your main hope for the festival?

That everyone from artists to attendees, have a fun, inspiring, and phenomenal experience. And no thunder snow (or rain)!

Anything else you want to add?

I want to thank Sixty Inches from Center for the opportunity to enthuse about this festival and I Am Logan Square! I truly have the best job in the world. Thanks for reading and see you this weekend!

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