With so many summer festivals in Chicago, it can be tough to see and do everything worthwhile. To help you navigate the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival (MAAF), I Am Logan Square’s Alison Trebe and Geary Yonker, organizers of the event, provide suggestions for the best things to see, hear, and taste at the fifth incarnation of their annual street fest, running Friday, June 28, to Sunday, June 30.
The festival "began as an art walk with a music component," Yonker explains, born out of a desire to highlight the local arts community and draw visitors toward Milwaukee Avenue’s vacant storefronts. Though many of those storefronts have turned into popular restaurants and shops, Trebe says the MAAF’s purpose is still “focusing on local arts and culture, first and foremost.” Helping achieve this is Land and Sea Dept.—a multipurpose design and event-planning firm headed by art and music expert Peter Toalson, formerly of the Empty Bottle and Beauty Bar. Toalson is curating most of the music, and the firm is directing the festival’s graphic design, including its sleek, modern logo. But the ultimate goal for both parties is to highlight a spectrum of the community’s culture. Trebe says there’s "a lot of diversity in the shops along this strip [of Milwaukee Avenue], so we want to make sure we're being thoughtful."
This year, the festival’s south end begins at the Logan Square Blue Line station and climbs three blocks northwest to the intersection of Milwaukee and Diversey Avenues. The layout is larger and more concentrated than previous years, both doubling the amount of space for art vendors and making the festival easier for visitors to navigate.
What to See
MAAF will host five pop-up galleries, each housing more than 50 artists and curated by one of the following three groups: the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance (PRAA), South Logan Arts Coalition (SLAC), and Ag47, an arts mentorship program for girls aged 11–17. PRAA will take over a storefront at 2777 N. Milwaukee Ave. to display its vibrant works of multiethnic art, whereas Ag47 plans to occupy a smaller gallery space at 2785 N. Milwaukee Ave. Yet another pop-up space at the north end of the festival is expected to showcase art by women in the community. Even the McDonald's at 2707 N. Milwaukee Ave. is getting in on the action: amid the aroma of crispy fries, SLAC's director will arrange works of art from her coalition and, potentially, other creative contributors.
Across the street, the art-deco cinema Logan Theatre will screen classic films every night of the festival. The titles are Some Like It Hot, Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski, and A Clockwork Orange (tickets are $7 for adults).
What to Hear
With the aid of Toalson, about 30 musical acts will perform on two stages: the northern Community Stage (just south of Kimball and Diversey Avenues, sponsored by the soon-to-open Harding Tavern) and the southern Culture Stage (just north of Kedzie Avenue). Though you could spend almost the entire weekend at either stage, some of the lineup’s highlights include Bare Mutants (7:15 p.m. Friday on the Culture Stage), Cave (8 p.m. Friday on the Community Stage), The Cairo Gang (2 p.m. Saturday on the Community Stage), and Tobacco (8:45 p.m. Saturday on the Culture Stage). On Sunday, jazz-reggae outfit Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub (2 p.m.) hits the Community Stage before a performance by Chicago-based indie musician Netherfriends (5 p.m.).
But one of the most unique and exciting moments, Yonker and Trebe divulge, will be PRAA’s end to the festival: a Sunday-night performance by Puerto Rican cultural icon, musician, and artist William Cepeda (8 p.m. on the Community Stage). A multimedia-focused trombonist and percussionist, Cepeda blends the roots of Afro-Caribbean and African music. Yonker describes the pageantry of his live performance as "a 10-piece orchestra with singers, dancers, and stilt-walkers." He'll also lead a mask-making workshop.
What to Taste
This year’s event will be awash in the aromas of food by chefs representing 12 nearby restaurants. Trebe and Yonker are especially thrilled by the presence of Reno, The Chicago Diner, Puffs of Doom, and the Michelin-rated Longman & Eagle. For beverages, look for Lula Cafe to dole out its refreshing red and white sangria and Telegraph to bring its carefully selected wine bottles to the streets.
Plan ahead by RSVPing to the semiprivate Cocktail Lot: a pop-up lounge in the parking lot adjacent to the former Pierre's Bakery at 2747 N. Milwaukee Ave. Yonker describes the lounge as "technically a private party" where bartenders from Telegraph, Parson's Chicken & Fish, The Owl, and a fourth as-yet-unconfirmed establishment will serve snacks and mix cocktails. Within the Cocktail Lot, you can find shade in a tent-covered seating area. Yonker says the idea for a unique outdoor lounge sprung from the desire to do something that "people don't get at any other festival."
Who to Visit
Yonker says the 120 local artists can essentially do whatever they want "within reason" in their 10'x10' vendor spaces. The festival gives preferential treatment and priority to Logan Square creatives, whose work ranges from paintings and ceramics to performance art and dance. With this year's focus on visual art and outdoor installments, the festival will also feature a dedicated area for children's art and activities on either side of Sawyer Avenue or the north side of Spaulding Avenue.
Some established vendors you should be sure to check out are Galerie F and Drug Factory Press for apparel and art prints and Saki for vinyl LPs. The roster of participating vendors also includes local and sponsoring distilleries and breweries, most notably Tito's Handmade Vodka and the notoriously polarizing Jeppson's Malört.
After the festival closes its gates, you can still catch neighborhood art at the recurring Logan Square Night Market. Though the market’s location is yet to be determined, this nocturnal fair will showcase a handful of dedicated local musicians, artists, and food vendors each week until September. Trebe says I am Logan Square has already received a lot of interest from local musicians, and the experience should shape up to be a "farmers' market with a little bit of an evening vibe."