ISU Prof Helps Students Capture the Tastes of Culture

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

Archana Shekara lives where art, culture, and social justice intersect. This semester, she helped Illinois State University students nourish an appetite for cultural identity and a hunger for social justice and inclusion.   


Shekara’s spring course, Art 315: Special Topics in Graphic Design, explored multicultural perspectives and social issues through visual artwork. The associate professor, a native of India, assigned her 17 students a trio of daunting projects: Bringing vision and creativity to issues of cultural stereotyping and marginalization; developing soon-to-be-released new posters and related graphic materials for Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal (NIOTBN) Not In Our School anti-bullying/anti-bigotry programs; and Food For Thought, an examination of individual cultures and their histories through their cuisine.

Food and culture are inextricably intertwined – the staples and delicacies of global societies reflect their geographies and climates, their agriculture and economic lifeblood, their beliefs and folkways. As part of the ISU Food For Thought exhibit, which ends Monday at ISU’s Milner library, created information design posters about one dish from their ancestral country and traced its history, ingredients, and relevance.

“When you break bread together with people who don’t look like you, all of a sudden, something fascinating happens,” said Shekara, a NIOTBN Steering Committee member.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

Students conducted research about national identity, pride, language and art. Subjects included German pfannkuchen (pancakes) and landjaeger (sausage), Greek saganaki (flaming cheese), Lebanese hummus, Italian cannoli (a sweet confection stuffed with ricotta cheese), Irish colcannon (a hearty potato/cabbage/onion/bacon dish), and Polish pierogi (dumplings).

Senior Larissa Summers highlighted Cherokee Bean Bread, an indigenous staple that embodies the indigenous American struggle against cultural appropriation and dilution.

“My Cherokee heritage is very close to me,” the native Oklahoman relates. “I did bean bread because I didn’t know about it, I hadn’t tried it before, and I wanted to get more in touch with something I was not familiar with. I have two different versions of the bread in my piece – the original version of the bread, which is just mashed-up corn and beans; and the kind of recipe you find now. It’s kind of like cornbread with beans in it. It’s very ‘westernized.’ The Cherokee used to have simplistic meals, simplistic lives, and then (non-native settlers) came over, and everything started getting more complex.They started getting moved around; their food started being influenced. There’s flour in it now, milk, honey. I wanted to show the journey not only of the food, but of Native Americans, as well.”

Rock Island’s Evan Morris meanwhile explored his Scottish ancestry through haggis, which blends ground sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs with oats, cooked inside a sheep’s stomach. While according to Morris the unique dish was once considered “a poor man’s food,” he noted haggis today is celebrated as a culinary symbol of Scottish nationalism and pride – his poster incorporated the verse of Scots poet Robert Burns, whose piece “The Address to Haggis.”

“I found out my ancestors came over probably about 200 years ago – that’s when there was a huge emigration from Scotland because of the Highland Clearances (a mass eviction of tenants across the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th Century),” reported the senior, who applied his research as well in Shekara’s stereotyping/marginalization project. “I still have to do some more digging on it. I’m going to try to go on and trace everything back.”

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

Asian Heritage Week Offers Rich Palette of Culture

Illinois State University's Asia Connect in April will offer "series of events where you can experience a variety of Asian cultures," in observance of Asian Heritage Week.

Monday, April 2, 5:30 p.m.
Chinese Calligraphy Demonstration and workshop
ISU Center for Visual Arts, Room 311
Enjoy warm Chinese tea, and learn the history of calligraphy and participate in the workshop.
Miranda Lin, Associate Professor, College of Education, ISU
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU


Tuesday, April 3, 6:15 p.m.
Kannathil Muthamittal {a peck on the cheek} Indian {tamil} film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Room 139
Question and Answers after the film.
Archana Shekara, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU
Li Zeng, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU

Wednesday, April 4, 5:30pm
Bangla parbon: Celebrating Bengali poetry
Blangladesh Student  Association, ISU
DeGarmo Hall, Room 551
Refreshments, Question and Answers after poetry recital.

Thursday, April 5, 5pm
Indonesian Cuisine Demonstration and Workshop
Food Lab Kitchen, Turner Hall, Room 131
Learn authentic Indonesian cuisine and taste right after!
Rini Stoltz


Friday, April 6, 6:15pm
Cape Number 7, Taiwanese film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Rm. 139
Panel discussion after the film.
Wei-Zan Wang, Director, Overseas Community Affairs Council
Cultural Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Chicago
Hsiu-Ling Robertson, Assistant Professor,
Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU


Chef Sees Cultural Education as Part of the Job


Frequently, the way to cultural understanding is through our stomachs. Breaking bread with strangers often breaks down barriers -- it’s often harder to hate if you just ate.

Jake Bolender, a Twin Cities native and head chef at Bloomington’s Reality Bites, sees culinary cultural education as “part of our jobs as chefs.” The downtown tapas restaurant and bar offers a daily sprinkling of global fare, and Bolender’s crew will create an international spread for BCAI School of Arts’ Nov. 4 Mix.Fuze.Evolve 2 fundraiser, co-sponsored by Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal’s Not In Our Schools.

“From what I’ve experienced, I think we’re lacking in terms of being familiar with different cultures, especially when it comes to food,” Bolender suggests. “I think people are afraid to try new things. They’re afraid of new things, different cultures, whether it be food or introducing themselves to people or going to an Asian grocery store. I think change is scary for a lot of people.”

Mix.Fuze.Evolve will showcase culturally-infused live stage entertainment and music with a dance floor, a “culturally diverse” cash bar with 14 alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, a Coffeehound coffee bar highlighting blends from various cultures, and 12 culinary meals from six different cultures. The event, from 7 to 10 p.m., will include multiple raffles, with profits funding BCAI-supported scholarships.

Tickets are $55 per person 21 or older, or $60 at the door. Tickets are available at Reality Bites, Coffeehound, or Signature India, or online at In conjunction with the event, BCAI is holding a youth event for every age, infant to teenager, from 5:30 to 11 p.m. at Illinois Wesleyan University, free for MFE2 ticketholders. Non-MFE parents also are welcome to register youth at a $25 per-child cost.

The Saturday menu includes akara & rice, ata dindin, tikka masala chicken, garbanzo & potato curry, black beans & rice, tacos, berry pudding, baked pumpkin, hummus, lamb & toasted nuts, ayam goreng, pork & vegetables spring rolls, baklava, fried thai bananas, and tres leches cake. That may seem like a headscratcher to some meat-and-potatoes Midwesterners, but Bolender emphasizes that “just because (dishes) come from a different culture doesn’t mean all people can’t enjoy them.”

BCAI Director Angelique Racki supplied a list of the Indian, African, Hispanic, Asian, and Indigenous American cuisines to be represented at the fundraiser. “Then, we just started doing our homework, digging in to different dishes from those cultures – some of which we were familiar with, some of which we were not,” Bolender relates. “It was really fun for us to kind of dig into some things we hadn’t cooked before – even recipes we hadn’t tried before. We were really excited about it. We wanted to be authentic. We wanted these dishes to be prepared in the way they’re traditionally prepared.”

His restaurant had offered a few of the dishes on the Nov. 4 menu on weekends, and he suggests some of the “big hits” among the new creations will make it onto his team’s new November menu. Bolender, his sous-chef Amy Deranian, and other crew members have their own cultural specialties, from Asian to traditional French.

“Mom did a lot of cooking growing up,” and Bolender was raised on a sturdy Heartland diet of chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, kielbasa sausage, mac-and-cheese, and Sunday pot roast. He began bussing tables at 15, and “immediately fell in love with the restaurant industry.” Bolender, now 31, graduated to “the front of the house” and, eight years ago, into the kitchen. His pre-Reality Bites credits included prepping sushi and pizza and learning from nationally respected chefs at the former Station 220 (now Epiphany Farms) and helping launch Bloomington’s Two Blokes And A Bus food truck.

Bolender’s own favorite international dish is “straight-up tacos,” preferably with lengua (tongue), chorizo sausage, or tripa (small intestines). Reality Bite’s MFE2 spread will include a full taco bar featuring a range of toppings and sauces.

Reality Bites’ servers are trained to help diners understand new and potentially daunting dishes. In a few cases, Bolender has made accommodations for the uninitiated: He promotes ayam goreng, a curry-marinated poultry dish, as Indonesian fried chicken.

“Most people like fried chicken,” he smiles. “Most of the times, it’s a matter of stepping outside the boundaries when it comes to food – trying something you haven’t tried before.”

Nov. 4 Fundraiser Features International Menu, Night of Entertainment

Bloomington’s Breaking Chains Advancing Increase (BCAI) School of Arts is offering a Twin Cities fall date night quite unlike any other: An evening of music and dance with an international menu, a multicultural bar, and a safe and creative place to leave the kids.

bcai fundrAISER.jpg

BCAI’s Mix.Fuze.Evolve 2 (MFE2) fundraiser is from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Reality on Monroe, 111 E. Monroe St. in Bloomington. Mix.Fuze.Evolve celebrates BCAI’s thesis that “experiences fuel creativity & fuse into ideas. Ideas unify & bring positive progression.”

The event will showcase culturally-infused live stage entertainment and music with a dance floor, a “culturally diverse” cash bar with 14 alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, a Coffeehound coffee bar highlighting blends from various cultures, and 12 culinary meals from six different cultures.

The event will include multiple raffles. Profits from the event will fund BCAI-supported scholarships.

In conjunction with the event, BCAI is holding a youth event for every age, infant to teenager, from 5:30 to 11 p.m. that night at Illinois Wesleyan University. The program is free for MFE2 ticketholders, but non-MFE parents also are welcome to register youth at a $25 per-child cost.

“We’re giving you five hours of free, constructive child care,” BCAI Director Angelique Racki added. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Tickets are $55 per person 21 or older. Tickets are available at Reality Bites, Coffeehound, or Signature India, or online at

BCAI provides an expression platform and arts education to everyone, regardless of income or background. Racki noted “we’re doing huge things at BCAI,” but although youth has always been a special focus, she stressed “BCAI’s vision is to education all generations.”

Guests at the Nov. 4 event will have the opportunity to submit positive “affirmations” for BCAI students and post “I am” statements that express their dreams, talents, and goals.

Entertainment will include performances by BCAI’s fall Indian and African dance classes. Bloomington’s Reality Bites restaurant plans an international menu for the evening, including:

•Akara & Rice

•Ata DinDin

•Tikka Masala Chicken

•Garbanzo & Potato Curry

•Black Beans & Rice

•A taco bar with an assortment of toppings and salsas

•Berry Pudding

•Baked Pumpkin


•Lamb & Toasted Nuts

•Ayam Goreng

•Pork & Vegetables Spring rolls


•Fried Thai Bananas

•Tres Leches Cake

•An assortment of globally inspired candy and treats

The event is co-sponsored by Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal.

Cultural Fest Continues to Wring Changes

Dan Craft

The Pantagraph

Quite a lot has changed for Bloomington's Cultural Festival over 38 summers.

But quite a lot has stayed reassuringly steadfast, too.

Just ask two of the folks who were there at the beginning and who are still on board for Saturday's 2017 edition in ISU's Bone Student Brown Ballroom (10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.).

Gary Muhammad, who co-founded the festival in the summer of 1979 with Lee Otis Brewer, is no longer involved with the festival's administration.

But he does lead local smooth jazz group Soft Spoken, a presence on the Twin Cities music scene for many years, scheduled to head up the entertainment stage at 6 p.m.

Elaine Hill, who was one of those volunteering to lend Brewer and Muhammad a helping hand for that premiere event, has been the person coordinating the vendor end of things in the years since, a role she'll be continuing Saturday, and, she adds, "hopefully many more" festivals to come.

"It was a vision that Lee Brewer and I shared," recalls Muhammad of that first festival, which, with the help of city fathers, secured Bloomington's downtown square as its location.

That vision: a celebration of cultural diversity and heritage in a positive, family friendly, life-affirming context.

"It was pretty nice ... we didn't know what our expectations were because there were no festivals being done on the square," recalls Muhammad.

Compared to what would come, the first Cultural Festival was a modest, small-scale affair, lasting around three hours on a Saturday and attracting around 200 people.

There was a steel drum band from Northern Illinois University for an added tropical flair. Some of the merchants held sidewalk sales.  

"For me," recalls Elaine Hill, "it was more like 'wow, people are embracing this,' even though it was a small, intentional group of people, and it was the diversity of it that was important to me."

That small, but heartfelt, debut led to a new location for the sophomore edition in 1980.

"The biggest thing that came out of that first year is that we found out that some of the merchants were uncomfortable with the crowds of young blacks coming downtown," says Muhammad.

Some of them, he adds, lobbied to have the festival moved elsewhere, which resulted in the move to Miller Park, which would become the festival's home for the next three decades.

"I was resistant at first," confesses Muhammad. "I didn't like it. It felt like it was a snub, in a sense, for a festival that was mean to celebrate and highlight our culture. It kind of felt like we weren't welcome."

In the end, though, the park, with its spacious room and easy access, proved itself the perfect setting for the event.

"It was more room, more of a festive atmosphere and more people could bring baskets and food and come out with the whole family and make a day of it," he says.

"It also attracted more vendors and provided the room for much more growth. It took a year or so to get the bad taste out of my mouth, but the move to Miller Park really helped it grow," says Muhammad.

Indeed, by the time of the event's 15th anniversary in 1994, attendance had ballooned from 200 in 1979 to around 4,000; and the fest's duration had expanded from three hours to three days (Friday evening through Sunday).

Rising costs, loss of sponsorship and other facts led to the festival leaving Miller Park for more economical environs, with one year spent inside at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum followed by three in ISU's Brown Ballroom.

With that space scheduled to be under renovation next summer, the festival is currently looking for an alternate home for 2018, either inside or outside, says current festival organizer Tony Jones.

Though locations and duration have changed over the decades, other aspects of the Cultural Festival have remained constant.

"I'm very, very excited about the festival has grown over the years," says Hill.

"What I love about it is that every aspect of our community, as diversified as it is, has its own thing going on ... and what's wonderful is that we are able to bring them all together, which speaks volumes for our community."

Voices of Pride to Present New Dramas

New Route Theatre is excited to present its second annual Voices of Pride new play festival. This festival, featuring LGBTQ-themed works, is produced in partnership with the Prairie Pride Coalition.

These staged readings will run from May 4 through May 7:

May 4 at 7:30 p.m. - A PEFECT FIT by Lia Romeo and directed by Kat Gregory. Featuring Connie Blick, Heather Ann-Marie Morrow, Genevieve Pilon, Carolyn Stucky, and Chloe Szot.

May 5, 7:30 p.m. - POSTCOITAL VARIATIONS by Alex Dremman and directed by Joe McDonnell. Featuring - Paige Brantley, Jennifer Cirillo, Mathew Frederick, Lauren Hickle, Elante Richardson, and Wesley Tilford.

May 6 will include readings of all four plays throughout the day:

A PERFECT FIT - 11 a.m.

HIS/HERS ESCAPADES - 1 p.m., by Christoper Van derArk and directed by Don Shandrow. Featuring Kyle Berry, Ramsey Hendricks, Rachel Hettrick, Timothy Jefferson, Everson Pierce, and Austin Travis.

A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING - 6 p.m., by Peter Macklin directed by George Jackson. Featuring Everson Pierce and Joe McDonnell.


May 7 will conclude the festival with A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING at 2 p.m. and HIS/HERS ESCAPADES at 6 p.m.

This year’s festival will be held at the Chateau Bloomington Hotel and Conference center in the Jesse Smart Auditorium.

Ticket prices will be $10 per reading or $5 for students and seniors and $25 for festival experience ticket for all four readings.

To reserve tickets e-mail us at Tickets will also be available at the Garlic Press, 108 West North St. in Uptown Normal, starting on April 25, or may be purchased at the door based on availability.

A cash bar will be available before and between readings with appetizers available at a modest price. There will be dinner breaks on Friday and Saturday evening.

A reduced room rate is available for those attending from out of town. For more information on room rates contact the Chateau by calling 309-662-2020 and mentioning Voices of Pride, New Route Theatre, or Prairie Pride.

IWU Program Highlights Douglass' Pioneering Photo Work

The co-director of the Yale Public Humanities Program, Laura Wexler, will visit Illinois Wesleyan University Feb. 9-10 as part of the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program.

Wexler is professor of American studies, professor of film and media studies, and professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Yale. She is founder and director of the Photographic Memory Workshop at Yale, and the former co-chair of the Yale Women Faculty Forum. She has received numerous fellowships and awards, including a Henry R. Luce Foundation Grant for a three-year project on “Women, Religion and Globalization.”  Since 2011, she has been principle investigator on a project to make a web-based interactive research system for mapping, searching and visualizing more than 170,000 photographs from 1935-1945 created by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. Wexler holds M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University in English and Comparative Literature.

She will present a talk entitled, “Frederick Douglass: On Photography” at 4 p.m. Feb. 9 in Beckman Auditorium. In the 1860s, Douglass gave several public lectures where he discussed the importance of the then-new invention of photography. In “Pictures and Progress” he shared his vision of the role he hoped photography would play in fostering a more democratic society after the Civil War. Wexler’s lecture engages with his critical thought in the context of his time, and ours. The presentation is free and open to the public.

The purpose of the Visiting Scholar Program is to contribute to the intellectual life of the institution by making possible an exchange of ideas between the Visiting Scholars and the resident faculty and students. The Visiting Scholars spend two days on each campus and take full part in the academic life of the institution. Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa’s mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression. Illinois Wesleyan’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter received its charter in 2001. Wexler’s visit to Illinois Wesleyan is also a co-curricular programming event associated with Illinois Wesleyan’s intellectual theme Women’s Power, Women’s Justice.     

BCAI Hosts Self-Defense Training, Acting Workshop

ISU's Black Actors League is presenting a six-week workshop to cultivate young artists and inspire/encourage diversity.

The workshop will cover the importance of warming up, basic fundamentals of acting, improv, and monologues.

Sessions start Friday, Feb. 10, 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the BCAI School of Arts at 107 East Chestnut Street, Bloomington, and will continue on the following Fridays, Feb 17 and 24 and March 4 and 24, at the same time at the school. The workshop concludes with an April 14 showcase on the ISU campus (location to be announced).

Cost of the workshop is $25 per student, and covers all six sessions, a certificate, the showcase, and snacks. For information, visit

The Black Actors League is a registered student organization whose focus is to bring diversity and discussion to ISU's theater department.

"In this organization, we learn about black playwrights, black works, and black actors; we also perform chosen or original works," according to the League's Facebook page. "When events in the world take place concerning our African-American counterparts, we bring those issues to our theater department. Blacks Actors League is open to any and everyone with a passion for exploring diversity in culture and art."

BCAI also is sponsoring with NIOTBN its first-ever free defense conference tomorrow, for individuals ages 7 to adult. Sessions are broken into two groups, for those 7 through 11, and those from 12 to adult.

The following sessions are planned:
Financial Defense: State Farm Bank
Identity Theft Defense: Legal Shield representatives
Physical Self-Defense: Combat Martial Arts
Peace Defense: Palms Together Yoga
Ambition Defense: BCAI School of Arts CEO
Legal Defense: awaiting confirmation
Health Defense: Dr Josh Johnson, Johnson Family Chiropractic
Cultural Defense, with an open panel conversation

Refreshments will be provided. Participants are asked to bring a notebook and pen or pencil, and a bottle of water.

Vince: A Summer and a Labor of Love

Local artist Vince Bobrosky spearheaded this summer's creation of a Not In Our Town/McLean County Diversity Project mural at East/Albert and Olive Streets. The mural will be dedicated October 10.

mural flyer final1026.jpg

Thanks to the McLean County Diversity Project I had a very rewarding experience this summer. What began as an idea to recreate some artwork that already existed within Not In Our Town (NIOT), ended up being something quite different thanks to the foresight of Tricia Stiller Executive Director of the Downtown Bloomington Association.

Tricia contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing a collaborative mural project with scholars from the McLean County Diversity Project. Since I really enjoy working with kids, I immediately accepted the challenge. I have to admit however, I didn’t know much about this group, but that would all change in due time.

Workshops were scheduled with the scholars to create the concept for this collaborative mural. I must say, I was a bit nervous, but it was excited nervousness. I met each of the kids at the door of our workshop room greeting them with a smile and a handshake as we introduced ourselves to each other. Little did I know that this would become the start of something that would create an experience  that will last for the rest of my life.

We started with a few presentations. Camille Taylor from NIOT shared the story of Billings, Montana, where a rock was thrown through a bedroom window of a 6 year-old boy who had placed a picture of a menorah during Hanukkah. The story goes on to tell how the town of Billings united together by placing pictures of menorahs that were printed especially for this purpose, in windows all across town. This is where NIOT started, and has now spread across the country. Bloomington/Normal actually celebrated 20 years of involvement with NIOT this year.

I also shared a few videos, one of which showed astronaut Scott Kelly as he circled the earth on the International Space Station. He talked about being able to see the world with no borders as you would normally see on a map. He describes that the earth appears as one global community, one which radiates peace and hope. He goes on to say that he wishes for the day when mankind can live in peace and happiness. These presentations were very emotional. They set the tone on what would become some challenging and fun workshops to follow.

As we continued the workshops, I got to know the kids more each time. I was so impressed with the thoughts they had, and the images they drew. All in all the kids generated almost 150 words or quotes and countless images that reflected their thoughts what NIOT and diversity means to them. We brainstormed ideas on how to create a mural to represent all of this. Eventually we landed on an idea that would give each scholar their own space and colors to paint on the wall and create the message that they had to share. Bright colors and bold messages became a foundation. We titled the mural: "Let Our Light Shine."

What truly impressed me, was within this diverse group of young people, a common theme became apparent. The thought that we should all accept one another for who we are and simply get along and work together to make the world a better place became a common message. These scholars each had bold messages to say and this mural was going to give them an opportunity to show just what their message is.

As artwork began to emerge on the mural, it soon became apparent that each of the scholars’ individual space was as unique as each one of them. Their personalities shined along with each of their unique messages. It was fun and very rewarding to get to know each of the scholars as their painting progressed, not to mention their fearless leader Jeff. I told the kids they would hear all kinds of positive comments and compliments from many people passing by the mural while they worked. This happened numerous times.  As more and more artwork was painted, I could see the excitement and proud feelings that built within them. Each scholar took ownership of their area and did an absolutely wonderful job. They stuck it out to the end.

Having never been involved in such a project, I am sure that they learned some new skills and perhaps a little about themselves and the others that worked beside them. I know that I did, and for that I will be forever grateful for the experience that I had and new friends that I made.

The sincere thoughts and emotional expressions that are now a painted mural, will be a lasting message for countless people to see and experience. It has already touched many in a positive way. There was a gentleman that came up to me one day while I was painting. He asked “what is all this about?” I gave him a brief explanation. He replied with quite a negative comment. As I continued to walk him along the wall and show him some of the messages that were written, he couldn’t help but be touched by what he saw. When he left that day, he had a change of heart. This gentleman has returned many times to see the progress and compliment everyone for providing such a positive message. The light has truly shined on this individual.

No one can deny the positive message that this mural has. One person at a time, the light will become brighter and brighter.

- Vince Bobrosky, Artist and Community Leader

NIOTBN Mural Dedication October 10


Over the summer, an unsightly expanse of concrete on Bloomington’s downtown fringe has blossomed into a colorful, multicultural, personal and yet very public expression of an inclusive community, thanks to downtown planners, a youth-based education effort, a local artist, and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal.

The newly completed Diversity Mural on Olive and Albert/East Street facades, will be dedicated at 5:45 p.m. October 10 at the Bloomington Police Department Osborne Room. Mayor Tari Renner and the Bloomington City Council then will recognize the work of seven young McLean County artists and their supervisor/mentor, Vince Brobosky. Bloomington First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker and Moses Montefiore Temple Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of NIOTBN's Faith and Outreach Subcommittee plan to "bless" the mural at 5:15 p.m.

Downtown Bloomington Association (DBA) Executive Director Tricia Stiller has been instrumental in shepherding murals aimed at beautifying the downtown district. She reacted enthusiastically when NIOTBN approached her last fall with the idea of a new al fresco work designed to broadcast its message of diversity and understanding.

Armed with DBA Design Committee approval, Stiller contacted her friend Brobosky, a Twin Cities artist responsible for previous works on downtown facades. At the same time, she organized a series of educational workshops at the Bloomington Center for the Creative Arts Creativity Center in cooperation with the McLean County Diversity Project and its director, Jeffrey Schwartz.

“I have always enjoyed collaboration and involving young people,” Stiller related. “I had had five prior seasons with the Diversity students, and I knew this would be wonderful for them, because, truly, what Not In Our Town represents is them.

“They are from very diverse backgrounds, and through their exercises, they figure out how to get along together and celebrate one another. We should take a lesson from them, and model our behavior from them.”

During four two-hour workshops beginning in June, young artists with NIOTBN assistance honed in on their interpretation of the phrase “not in our town” and discussed their own experiences with bullying or discrimination. “Tragically, many of these young people, who are in seventh grade through high school, had heartbreaking stories to tell,” Stiller said. A student crew emerged from those discussions: Oskar Urquizo, his sister Olivia Urquizo, Abhiru Raut, and Ved Lombar, all of Bloomington; Colfax brothers Richie and Max Beck; and Molly Klessig of Downs.

Beyond its fundamental message, the mural offered the opportunity to address what Stiller deemed “one of our top candidates for beautification” – an “ugly” retaining wall for a funeral home parking lot that faces the Bloomington Public Library. The wall’s Olive Street facade provided ample space for Brobosky and his seven young artists to express a variety of personal messages about tolerance, respect, understanding, cooperation, and compassion, as well as a landscape of Twin Cities landmarks, while the East/Albert Street side of the wall was dedicated to the message “Let Our Light Shine,” accompanied by that phrase in a variety of languages and Braille (a series of braille plaques also will communicate that message) .

A few months after project launch, the perennial eyesore according to Stiller is now a “magnificent” addition to the library/Bloomington City Hall corner, at the threshold of a key Bloomington residential neighborhood. She is hopeful about “the connections that can be made from that, behaviorally, socially."  

“The message of the mural is to be shared,” Brobosky said. “The work that is going into the celebration and everyone that will see and read about it will be touched and inspired.”

At the Museum: Karaoke, Kawaii, Kami, and Culture

Through Sept. 11, experience Tokyo’s vibrant culture in a new interactive traveling exhibit at Normal's Children's Discovery Museum.

In "Hello from Japan!," families are transported to two distinct areas of Tokyo that exist side by side: One serene and exquisite, the in the words of the museum, "too cute for words."

The beautiful, natural Shinto shrine park invites children to build a bridge, crawl through a forest, encounter Kami spirit, and make a wish at a wishing tree.

Kawaii Central is a streetscape inspired by Tokyo’s bustling Harajuku district, bursting with color, trendy shops, and Kawaii styles. Kids sing karaoke, smile for the photo booth camera, serve up a seasonal Japanese meal, and design adorable mascots for their families.

Kawaii is defined as the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture. It has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms.

The word kawaii originally derives from the phrase kao hayushi, which literally means "(one's) face (is) aglow," commonly used to refer to flushing or blushing of the face.

Together, the exhibit highlights how old and new traditions coexist in Japan, giving visitors a family-friendly window into Japanese culture.

This exhibit was created by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and is part of the Asian Culture Exhibit Series, funded by the Freeman Foundation and administered by ACM.

Meanwhile, the Children's Discovery Museum will coordinate and host the 2016 Bloomington-Normal Worldwide Day of Play (WWDOP) and Uptown Block Party from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 on Beaufort Street in Uptown Normal.  

For information, visit

BCAI Seeks Support for Community Arts Education

Bloomington-based BCAI School of Arts is seeking community support to unleash “The Voices of Our Youth.”

BCAI provides an “expression platform” and arts education to everyone regardless of income or background. Its objective is “equipping individuals with increased awareness of self, community and various cultures through unique training in the arts,” but donations are needed to help cover the discounted cost for the program that some families could not afford.

Visit!donate/w02as to help.

Cultural Festival: Connecting With Cultures

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

On a green paper leaf, Brenda Joyner of Bloomington wrote the word “patience.”

She glued the leaf to a cardboard tree representing strengths in the community at the Cultural Festival Saturday at Illinois State University.

“I strive to be patient and I’m trying to grow in that direction,” she said.

Joyner has attended the annual festival, in its 37th year, for “many, many years.”

“If you’re interested in connecting with other cultures, you can start somewhere like this,” she said. “Then spread out to make diversity a big part of your life. Your life is not the only life.”

The purpose of the festival is to connect the wide variety of ethnicities in Bloomington-Normal through music, dance, art and fellowship.

Some of the performances in the Brown Ballroom included the Sugar Creek Cloggers, Odyssey World belly dancing, Japanese sword demonstration, a fashion showcase and solo singers.

“It provides an easy opportunity for the community to experience ballet, clogging, jazz, belly dancing...they can see a huge variety of cultures in one place,” said Tony Jones, program coordinator.

“With everything going on in the world, we need events like these where people can come together, mix and mingle, and enjoy a diverse environment.”

NIOTBN Arts Chairman Angelique Racki at the Festival.

NIOTBN Arts Chairman Angelique Racki at the Festival.

Community groups like Not In Our Town, the local NAACP branch, 100 Black Men of Central Illinois and BN Parents, shared information with visitors. Face painting, crafts and inflatables were available for kids.

While the Odyssey World belly dancers swayed to Middle Eastern music, 4-year-old Wynter Mann hopped off her seat in the audience and started to dance next to her grandma, Virginia Mann.

“It goes to show how people of other cultures can come together,” said Virginia, of Normal. 

Amber Schrlau of Stanford came to the festival for the first time with her kids Maeva, 4, and Murphy, 2.

“They need to know love and what better way than this event,” said Schrlau. “Not everyone is the same and that’s a good thing.”

The young dance group, Ballet Folklorico de Central Illinois, took the stage in authentic Mexican dancing costumes. The girls wore full red skirts and the boys wore sombreros. The group is part of Conexiones Latinas de McLean County, a non-profit organization with the goal of intercultural collaboration and connecting Latinos in the community.

“They are so excited about sharing this with the community,” said Javier Centeno, vice president of the organization. “This sort of event is about love; giving love to the community and respecting each other."

Cultural Fest July 23 at ISU

The fun-filled Cultural Fest will bring music, dance, and more to the Brown Ballroom on Saturday, July 23.

The festival runs from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. with performances throughout the day, including the Adam Larson Quartet at 6:30 p.m. and the band Miles Ahead at 7:30 p.m.

Showcases during the festival will include a jump rope team, belly dancing, a Kendo sword demonstration, and a salsa demonstration. Find a full schedule at

This is the 37th year of the festival, designed to promote and foster appreciation of cultures through entertainment and educational activities. The day also provides a forum for community organizations to promote positive activities for civic, educational, and social purposes.

The festival is free and open to all ages.

Listening to Our Ancestors Explores Tragic Hidden History

An Illinois State University professor hopes to raise racial sensitivity by raising awareness of the “missing link in the history of slavery” that began before imprisoned Africans even arrived on American shores and has affected African-Americans many generations later.

Ghana's Elmina Castle, where Africans languished while awaiting shipment to the Americas.

Ghana's Elmina Castle, where Africans languished while awaiting shipment to the Americas.

The slave dungeon.

The slave dungeon.

According to Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum, the upcoming local presentation Why Do Black Lives Matter? Listening to Our Ancestors explores “the journey that people of African descent took to get here,” focusing on the African “slave dungeons” where men and women were held following their capture and sale to American “owners.” Aduonum extensively researched the experiences of African women who were enslaved at Elmina Castle on the coast of Ghana, and her program reportedly will attempt “to connect the dots from pre-slavery to Black Lives Matter Movement.”

The evening program will include a historical powerpoint, a musical dance drama featuring Bloomington-Normal community members, and a community “talk back and civic dialogue.” Aduonum will present the program from 7 to 8:45 p.m. June 29 and 30 in the Normal Public Library Community Room and July 5 and 12 in the Bloomington Public Library Community Room, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Often, individuals were kept in cages for months until slave ships could be filled for passage from Ghana across the Atlantic, and African women faced the same kind of sexual victimization they would experience with U.S. slave owners, Aduonum said.

She believes many of those who fail to understand or appreciate the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement fail to grasp the true depth of “the historical violation of black bodies.” As horrifying as some film treatments of slavery have been, Hollywood has effectively “whitewashed” its tragic, deep-rooted human dimensions, the ethnomusicologist and doctor of philosophy argues.

“What we hear about or see on TV is slaves working on the plantation,” Aduonum related. “We never talk about how they got here. My argument is that once they were captured and sold, it was in these places where they became slaves. It was there where they were controlled and starved or left to die in isolation cells. This was where their psyche was shaped – where they lost their community, their collective identity. Once you are branded, you are a commodity – your identity, your name, everything was stripped away.

“What this also shows us is that the violation of black bodies didn’t just start with the Black Lives Matter movement – it started a long time ago. I’m trying to make a connection between what is going on now and what was going on before. This racism actually started in these dungeons, because it was here where the idea of white superiority and black inferiority started – the objectification of black bodies started here.”

She characterizes the trauma and “anguish” slavery has inflicted on many modern African-Americans as “post-slavery traumatic syndrome,” comparable to general post-traumatic stress disorder but on a genetically ingrained “cell memory” level. Except, however, that “people who have gone through a traumatic situation often get counseling” – an option unavailable to those abruptly freed in the 1860s, some after nearly a lifetime of slavery.

Aduonum began researching the slave dungeons in 2009, during a university sabbatical, developing the script for the play Walking With My Ancestors in 2014 based on her interviews and journey to slave “spaces.” “I stood in this cell and tried to imagine what life must have been for these people who had no voice,” she recalled. “In my script, the spaces are also talking.”

Following its debut in November 2014, the program traveled to Washington last June and was presented last fall as part of ISU Homecoming. Aduonum cited “really intense dialogue” particularly in D.C., and noted ISU students were “outraged” by the lack of public attention given the slave dungeons – a historical aspect they felt was necessary for individuals to truly shape “informed decisions about racism.”

“We always assume that black people are complaining about nothing,” she suggested. “We just don’t know.”

Local Youth Create Visual, Musical Accompaniment to NIOTBN Efforts

Maria Nagle

The Pantagraph

When 16-year-old Oskar Urquizo saw his silhouette Friday on a retaining wall across Olive Street from the Bloomington Public Library and City Hall, he was taken aback.

"It's kind of scary because how accurate it looks like me," said Urquizo.

But more importantly for Urquizo is why his silhouette and those of six other McLean County Diversity Project students — known as "scholars" — are being painted on the wall.

The silhouettes anchor a 115-foot-long section of a mural the youths are creating to spotlight efforts by Not In Our Town of Bloomington-Normal to end hatred and bigotry in the communities.

Local artist Vince Bobrosky is guiding the students to allow their personal narrative to become visual art. Each scholar's silhouette is the centerpiece of a section the scholar will complete his or her own way.

"Me and my dad were racially profiled here in Bloomington, so that is one of the main reasons why I wanted to be part of the project," said Urquizo, who grew up not far from the wall.

"There are so many things you wouldn't know about a person unless you talked to them," added Urquizo. "This project is kind of showing the differences between all of the different people in our community."

Other silhouettes are of Oskar's sister Olivia, 12, Abhiru Raut, 13, and Ved Lombar, whose age was unavailable, all of Bloomington; brothers Richie Beck, 16, and Max Beck, 13, both of Colfax; and Molly Klessig, 13, of Downs.

Klessig said she wants to use the image of a Protea, a South African flower, in her portion of the mural.

"It's really kind of perfect,” said Klessig, who was among four scholars at work on the mural Friday. “It represents diversity."

After the students complete the mural over the summer a dedication ceremony will be announced.

To go along with the mural project, two other scholars — Kristin Koe, 18, and Ethan Clay, 13, both of Bloomington — formed a piano-cello combo to record "Vicissitudes," a piece featuring music they composed. David Rossi, owner of Bombsight Recording Studio, donated his time and and facility for the project.

"'Vicissitudes' actually means 'change,'" said Koe. "I think it is representative of the song itself, but also the mural and what Not In Our Town stands for."

Camille Taylor, a retired educator and a NIOT member, and Jeff Schwartz, founder of the the Diversity Project, also worked with the youths on the project.

It was the scholars' idea to do a mural, which they are calling "Let Our Light Shone," said Taylor.

The students met over four Fridays after school at the city's Creativity Center to put the project together. They also had help from the Downtown Bloomington Association, which also has a public art program.

Rays extending from the silhouettes contain each student's personal message about NIOT. The rays also shine on depictions of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, the Normal Theater and other iconic Bloomington-Normal buildings.

"When you think about the youth and the messages that they are going to have inside each of the silhouettes, their message is the light," said Taylor.

"They are basically filling our community with hope for the future," she added. "They are generating from their hearts and heads their hopes and dreams for this community and the world. There can't be anything better than that."

The musical recording will be uploaded along with pictures of the mural to NIOT's website,

The duo will perform the song at the Not In Our Town Festival from 6-9 p.m. June 28 on the downtown Bloomington square, said Taylor.

“I think it is super cool that when I have kids and they have their kids that they are going to be able to go to this wall and say, 'Hey, grandma painted that; mom painted that.' I want it to be a memory,” said Klessig.

New Route Theater Offers Weekend LGBT Play Festival

New Route Theater is presenting a festival of LGBTQ plays tonight and this weekend. Theater Director Don Shandrow and program Curator Duane Boutte join Charlie Schlenker to talk about Voices of Pride.

Shandrow says this festival of four plays follows on the heels of the Black Voices Matter festival in February.

Voices of Pride will be presented in staged readings tonight and Saturday (April 23) at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at First Christian Church, 401 West Jefferson St. in Bloomington. Tickets will be available at the door for a suggested donation of $10, and the shows are open to the public.

NIOTBN Production Becomes Mission for Student Filmmaker

It may be no major motion picture. But to an Illinois State University student team currently working to bring Not in Our Town: Bloomington/Normal’s story to the screen, the project’s significance is “huge.”  

ISU senior and mass media major Cory Herman is helming a documentary about NIOTBN’s efforts toward building awareness and helping affect change in the Twin Cities. The yet-untitled project is an end-of-the-year production for his team’s Non-TV Production course, focusing on local non-profit  activity.

The team currently is interviewing NIOTBN leaders and volunteers and compiling footage from recent NIOTBN-involved events including the December interfaith vigil in downtown Bloomington, NIOTBN’s participation at the Bloomington Donald Trump visit, last spring’s Breaking Barriers police/community dialogue, and the summer vigil for the Charlestown church shooting victims.

The film – and Herman -- were inspired by a meeting between students and NIOTBN Education Chairman Camille Taylor.  As Taylor “passionately” outline the group’s community efforts and Not In Our School’s reach into elementary, junior high, and high school classrooms, Herman and his colleagues quickly realized that the project was “bigger than just ourselves; bigger than a grade,” he related.

“Listening to (NIOTBN’s) vision and its values, it really became a mission to show what Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal has done and the positive impact, the positive message that it stands for,” the Metamora student said. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, this is huge.’

“We want to make sure our film does justice for the organization – to make sure we’re doing everything we can to honor what they’re doing and the people who give the time to make sure that everybody feels safe, that no one feels afraid of being discriminated against or being persecuted for anything.”

The film is set to premiere in a late April screening for the NIOTBN Steering Committee before being submitted for the group to use in its activities. Herman’s production team also includes students David Hohulin, Kyle Bartolini, Sophia Hart, and Kristen Koukol, under the faculty direction of School of Communications Prof. Brent Simonds.

Herman’s own vision and values were forged in part by his parents – his father was a long-time youth pastor, his mother an active community volunteer. The family traveled extensively from church to church, “and my parents told me always to judge people based on who they are – how they act around you, how they act around adults – and to always have the capacity to forgive and to understand,” Herman said.

The Hermans lived for five years in a community a half-hour outside Charleston, S.C., where, according to the student documentarian, many of the residents “were very sweet and truly were looking for change” but others had clung to a “begrudging mentality” with roots in the Civil War era. Herman enjoyed a diverse circle of friends, but the population was divided somewhat by a largely white prep school and a predominantly black public school as well as lingering social sentiments.

“I didn’t realize until looking back, years later, that, wow, what I believed in – what my dad and my mom stood for -- wasn’t necessarily going along with the popular current,” said Herman, whose family returned to the Peoria area 14 years ago. “We never got harassed for it; nothing bad ever came from it. It’s just sobering, looking back and seeing that mentality.”

Herman is slated for a summer internship with a small production studio in Los Angeles. He hopes ultimately to use film, fictional  or documentary, not only to entertain but to push his audience to learn and “question” – to challenge previous social perceptions or recognize societal issues and concerns.

“I want to come back and be able to film in Peoria, in Bloomington-Normal,” Herman maintained, however.

Heartland Drama Examines Neighborhood and Race

Heartland Theatre Company's Clybourne Park, an examination of race relations and discrimination, continues through Feb. 25-27.

Clybourne Park, written by Bruce Norris and directed by Rhys Lovell, encompasses two acts set fifty years apart. Act One takes place in 1959, as nervous (white) community leaders anxiously try to stop the sale of a home to a black family. Act Two is set in the same house in the present day, as the now predominantly African-American neighborhood battles to hold its ground in the face of gentrification.

Clybourne Park is winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It includes mature themes and language. The local production is sponsored by Cindy and Mike Kerber.

Shows are Thursday through Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. General Admission is $15, with a senior discount (over 65) of $12 and a student discount of $5. To make a reservation, call the Heartland Theatre Box Office at 309-452-8709309-452-8709 or email