Chicago native Janelle I. McNeary showcased her artwork at the North Lawndale Arts Festival last weekend. | Lee Edwards/Contributor

The North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council convened its inaugural North Lawndale Art Festival on Aug. 6, a free celebration of community art and culture held at Douglas Park Cultural Center.

The NLCCC, a local organization started last year in order to draft a comprehensive plan for the West Side community, gave area artists an opportunity to showcase their talents for display and sale from early in the morning to well into the evening. The festival was the brainchild of the NLCCC’s arts and culture subcommittee.

In addition to the art, live entertainment was offered by Larry Taylor, Mamma Kemba, Tierra Roja, Guapachosos, Celestrial Ministries, Ronnie G, and M.A.D.D. Rhythms.

Sheila McNary, NLCCC’s arts and culture subcommittee chairman, one of the festival’s organizers, said she spoke with several community residents who were “very happy” to learn of an art festival. She said, in light of numerous community challenges, the need for positivity and culture was high.

“We thought it was very important for NLCCC to have an arts festival to start off with in hopes of bringing about community,” said McNary. “What we did today was bring together a combination of visual artists and different people from the community. Culture always brings community and this is a rich cultural area and that’s been lost so what we want to do is bring it back.”

NLCCC solicited both artists and vendors to participate in the festival via word of mouth and Facebook according to McNary.  She said the North Lawndale Arts Festival would return next year.

“We plan to make this an annual event and everybody bought into it and everyone is pleased with what happened here today,” said McNary.

NLCCC Arts & Culture committee member Alysia Slusser, who helped create the digital marketing content for the event, said the organization saw what other communities presented in terms of cultural programming and wanted to create something all their own in North Lawndale. She said NLCCC wanted to start hosting some of their own festivals.

“We see a lot of what’s happening in other communities; there’s a lot more events that are free and they’re fun for families,” said Slusser. “We wanted to bring a lot of people of color together because this neighborhood and Little Village are really close together and they deal with a lot of the same issues and it’s just good to get everyone together.”

Chicago native and self-taught painter Janelle I. McNeary displayed her work at the fest. The artist, who said she’s inspired by African artwork and incorporates street art into her pieces, noted that the festival is necessary within the African American community.

“Believe it or not, there are people in the African American community who love art and street art,” said McNeary. “When they come to these events, let the creative kids and the adults come out and showcase their work and do what they have to do and let everyone speak and be happy about it.”

McNeary said she received mostly positive feedback from festival attendees and plans to return to with more of her work next year.

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