By Deborah Cassell
Each Spring the YEA! Festival gives school children the opportunity to exhibit visual arts and perform for crowds of local supporters as well as proud parents.
It has been 26 years since art and antiques dealer Harvey Pranian created-and continues to guide-the Young Evanston Artists Festival, better known as YEA!. Conceived as a way for local businesses to give back to the community, the non-profit, non-competitive, non-commercial event brings together members of the Chicago-Dempster Merchants Association and area art teachers, who help students in grades pre-k through 12 to prepare for the annual showcase. It all takes place at the corners of Chicago Avenue and Dempster Street. In 2013, YEA! Day will be held May 18th.
Many schools use YEA! as the centerpiece for their art program.
Since its start in 1987, the event has grown to include more than 40 public (District 65 and 202) and private schools, and draw crowds of 3,000 to 4,000 people. Today, members of the first generation of YEA! (some of whom now are in their 30s) are getting to see their own children display artwork and perform on YEA! Day, notes Paul Giddings, president and treasurer of the Chicago-Dempster Merchants Association.
“It’s fun to watch,” says Giddings, describing the pride parents and children take in the celebration. A local store owner (Paul and his wife, Cease, run Folkworks Gallery on Chicago Avenue), Giddings has been involved in YEA! since 1990. Other Evanston businesses that have been longtime supporters include Secret Treasures, Bob Amato, Bagel Art, Blind Faith Café, S.P.A.C.E., Shaker Traditions and Minasian Rugs. New businesses are supportive of the program, as well, especially once they’ve experienced it, Giddings says.
Carla Kenney-Phillips, a retired art instructor and department head from Nichols Middle School who has been a part of the program from the beginning. Kenney-Phillips remains actively involved in YEA! Day, as Volunteer Coordinator.
YEA! also requires the commitment of Parent-Teacher Associations, school principals, the City of Evanston, the Evanston Chamber of Commerce and hundreds of volunteers, including parents, grandparents and friends of the program – plus the aforementioned local businesses, all of which stay open for YEA! Day.
Area businesses also donate supplies. For example, Jewel-Osco provides organizers with beverages and snacks, which they resell (at affordable prices) to fund the event. For the past three years, Autobarn on Chicago Avenue has been the title sponsor of YEA! Day. Kenney-Phillips specifically credits Evanston Lumber, WholeFoods Market and Duxler Tire for their ongoing support.
Further funding for the program comes via direct-letter requests and its Website, www.yeaevanston.org. Monies also are raised during a YEA! Day silent auction, featuring items such as gift certificates from local restaurants, as well as a raffle. YEA! t-shirts buttons, hats and washable tattoos also are sold during the celebration.
Weather always plays a role in YEA! Day, which takes place annually on the third Saturday in May, and requires a year of planning, Giddings explains. Although it has only rained once in 25 years, organizers always are prepared to move indoors.
Rain or shine, the festival will go on – much to the excitement of young Evanston artists. “It’s just amazing to see the creativity of the artwork. It’s so important for the community to recognize how the arts inspire and nurture our children,” says Dawn Okomoto, owner of Secret Treasures on Dempster Street and long-time YEA committee member and supporter.
Meanwhile, Giddings loves “the looks on the kids’ faces…It really brings the teaching experience home.”