Local arts organization AMFM hosted the second Feast festival this past Saturday, September 7, at Homan Square Park in the west-side neighborhood of Lawndale. AMFM bills the free event as an “art, food, and music festival where everybody eats,” and “eat” takes on multiple meanings. Feast gives deserving local artists a chance to “eat” by performing on a coveted summertime festival stage, while drawing attention to food insecurity—one of the most critical problems plaguing the south and west sides.
Festival attendees danced and bounced between stages named Salt and Pepper at opposite sides of the park. Many of the 17 billed performers have generated considerable buzz locally, among them Rich Jones, the Synergy Collective, and DJ Bonita Appleblunt. They were as diverse as the audience: they played rap, soul, jazz, and house music, and the lineup highlighted queer artists and women of color. Vendors sold clothes, homemade jewelry, organic juices, artwork, and more, and midway through the fest a fashion show curated by Chicago-based digital platform the Look Authority made a runway out of the grass.
Despite all this entertainment, though, Feast was all about the food. The festival’s vision is to foster healthier communities by educating people about food-related issues and encouraging innovation in sustainable, healthy food options in urban areas. Vendors included the Austin Community Food Co-op, which is searching for investors to help build a cooperatively owned grocery store in a food desert on the west side. Volunteers from the co-op made watermelon salad to demonstrate a cheap, healthy snack and offered water infused with fruits and vegetables. Festival sponsor Imperfect Produce, a company that fights food waste by discounting grocery items with physical imperfections, gave away more than 500 pounds of fresh produce. A private catering company offered enchiladas and a healthy (but tasty) grits dish with a mix of chickpeas, edamame, and black-eyed peas. Nearby there were tables full of recyclable paper boxes of water from environmentally conscious brand Boxed Water.
AMFM’s broader mission is to use arts and culture to build community, and to leverage that community to raise awareness about food insecurity and other social issues in Chicago. This intentional, mindful approach to throwing a festival is especially relevant here, given recent debates surrounding large, for-profit festivals using the city’s public parks. Feast is stage two of a three-part series of west-side AMFM events addressing food deserts: the first was Seeds, a food drive and farmer’s market this past June in Austin, and the third will be Harvest, a community fund-raising dinner with a food-justice partner in Humboldt Park this fall. Feast is well organized, and it was well-received—everyone who attended seemed to have fun and find their community. And of course, everybody ate.
Photographer Danny O’Donnell went to Homan Square to capture the vibes of the day, and you can see more of his pictures below. v