Oktoberfest draws crowds to 53rd

Associate vice president for civic engagement Susan Campbell described Oktoberfest as a chance to showcase the community to people from outside Hyde Park.

By Rebecca Guterman

An Oktoberfest celebration Saturday drew crowds to Hyde Park for crafts, performances, vendors, and a beer garden. According to event sponsor Wendy Williams, between 20,000 and 30,000 people attended the event.

“I thought it was a tremendous success. The Hyde Park community was well-represented. We had children, seniors, families, and students. Everyone seemed really happy, which was the goal,” Williams said.

Williams, executive director of the South East Chicago Commission (SECC), which helped organize and sponsor the event, said that although Oktoberfest is usually associated with beer, she was glad that the community bonded over other activities as well.

The event, the second in a three-part “Celebrate Hyde Park” series, took place on East 53rd Street between South Kimbark and South Dorchester Avenue and at adjacent Nichols Park.

Vendors sold jewelry, art, clothing, candles, perfume, food, and other goods. Local author Shelagh Jackson, a writer and publisher since 1998, set up a booth with her friend Julane Lea Clarke, who just started a personal business making accessories. They found out about Oktoberfest from Williams and decided to participate—Jackson was promoting a book signing while Clarke had her first show. “It’s a beautiful day and it’s fun,” Jackson said.

Another artist, Donovan McLean, sold his abstract art. “I was in another state, but I know Hyde Park is a great community. It’s been fantastic, like it always is,” he said.

Susan Campbell, the University’s associate vice president for civic engagement, described Oktoberfest as an opportunity to expose people who don’t live in Hyde Park to the community. “The celebration is a way of showcasing the neighborhood for people who’ve never been here before, to help out the local businesses, highlight the neighborhood’s diversity, and to provide entertainment,” she said.

Though the SECC, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement primarily organized the event, many other sponsors—including Starbucks, Chase Bank, and the Nichols Park Advisory Committee—also contributed, in addition to the efforts of volunteers.

The first event of the “Celebrate Hyde Park” series was a music festival featuring the band WAR on July 25, and the next will be a Season of Lights festival on December 4 to showcase Hyde Park’s interfaith community.

“The University, as well as the city, partnered to renovate Harper Court on 53rd Street, so we’re hoping that people will get accustomed to going to 53rd Street,” Campbell said.