Getting into the festival spirit

Entire University community must deepen student involvement in events like Oktoberfest.

By Maroon Editorial Board

Running the length of 53rd Street from Dorchester to Kimbark, this past weekend’s Oktoberfest was the latest event in the “Celebrate Hyde Park” series from the Hyde Park Vitality Committee, a partnership between the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, and the South East Chicago Commission. This year’s fest added on an extra day, featuring an even greater variety of Chicago-area performers and youth activities, as well as food and other wares from local vendors. Events like Oktoberfest and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which is also supported principally by the U of C’s Office of Civic Engagement, draw large crowds of all ages, and as a result, provide some of the best opportunities for students to engage with the community. Yet student attendance at these events tends to be low, and more could be done on both sides—from University organizers and students—to ensure greater involvement.

Students nearly universally pronounced last week’s Institute of Politics’ #Informed2012 a huge success, with particular praise directed at the event’s smart, efficient organization, emphasis on student participation, and incorporation of social media. If the organizers of the “Celebrate Hyde Park” festivals could similarly incorporate these successful elements—using social media to advertise, integrating student involvement within the structure of the event— potential for revenue would increase greatly as students, a major source of Hyde Park business, would gain more exposure to local performers and businesses.

One possibility for increasing involvement would be to encourage RSOs to either set up booths at festivals or add performance RSOs to the event programming. This would give students a stake in the festival and help diversify offerings without betraying the local focus. In addition, more students would be made aware of the event, and be more motivated to attend in support of their peers.

The initiative should also extend beyond RSOs: Individual students should volunteer in one of the better opportunities to engage in an unmediated, culturally significant Hyde Park event. Sure, much of this year’s festival was child-oriented: Petting zoos, face-painting, and pony rides were scattered throughout Nichols Park, attracting droves of Hyde Park kids. But the fest also included a popular beer garden, live music from the likes of South Side percussionist Taylor Moore, and booths upon booths of cheap, delicious food. Community service organizations like University Community Service Center and Alpha Phi Omega could lead campus calls for festival volunteers, which would both help the event’s infrastructure and ensure heightened attendance without forcing the festival’s programming to specifically cater to the student body.

If the University’s Office of Civic Engagement examines successful events in the past year—the recent Logan Center party and #Informed2012, to name just a few—and incorporates the elements that worked into marketing and promoting these local festivals, the result could be immensely beneficial to students, Hyde Park residents, and local businesses. On their end, students should make a more concerted effort to attend these events. Harper Court is officially opening next summer, and will provide many new venues for Hyde Parkers to eat, work, and play together—but we don’t have to wait until then to start doing so.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.