The YEA! Festival – for Young Evanston Artists – will return to Raymond Park on May 20 after a hiatus of several years due to COVID-19. Art teachers from all over School District 65 are invited to show the work of their elementary school art students in an outdoor, art-fair-like setting.
Music, dance and choral performances accompany the daylong event. Student artwork from all schools in the District 65 area – public, private, parochial – is displayed in booths staffed by the schools’ art teachers. There are supervised art-making opportunities for families and food trucks available for snacks and lunches.
The YEA! Festival was created 36 years ago by Harvey Pranian, an Evanston gallery owner and connoisseur of early American folk and outsider art. In fact, YEA! was Pranian’s ”baby” – he birthed it, created a board of directors from interested friends and customers and applied for and won nonprofit status.
When Pranian could no longer run it, the organization was scheduled to dissolve unless someone volunteered for his position.
In stepped Hope Washinushi, Evanston resident and artist, member of the Evanston Arts Council and member of the YEA! board. She chose not to renew her term on the Arts Council when she took on the very large responsibility of YEA! six years ago. At YEA! she served as co-chair the first year of her six, president for the next four and this year she is executive director.
“There is a misconception about the YEA! Festival,” she said recently. “ YEA! is not run by the city or the school district, but is a private, volunteer-led not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization and has been, for all 36 years. It’s a lot of work.” In fact, she added, the City of Evanston makes no contribution and offers no waived application fee, no drinking water truck and no special garbage or recycling pickup.
YEA! used to be held on the sidewalks along the Dempster Street shopping district, where it was often hard to navigate the crowds.
In 2010, as the event grew, the location changed to Raymond Park, on Chicago Avenue between Grove Street, Lake Street and Hinman Avenue.
When COVID-19 struck in 2020, the festival had to be canceled. In 2021 student artwork was displayed in storefront windows of businesses on the Main-Dempster Mile. And in 2022 there was no YEA! at all.
With the discontinuation of city art festivals such as the Lakeshore Arts Festival and Custer Street Fair, it is a joy for many to be able to anticipate the return of YEA!
“YEA! is a magical event – bringing the community together like I’ve never seen. To be able to see the happiness and joy on the faces of students and their families …” said Washinushi.
“People love going to YEA!, but we always need volunteers on the day of,’” she added.
“We provide lunches to the teachers and need volunteers to deliver them, to staff booths when teachers need a break, to help unload and set up in the early morning, and to help clean and load up when the festival is over.”
To volunteer, go to https://www.yeaevanston.org/contact-us-1.
The festival is supported by a variety of organizations – the Evanston Community Foundation, all participating school PTAs, the Evanston Arts Council, District 65, the Dew Foundation (a private foundation with Evanston connections) and several Evanston companies which offer their services – Waste Shed Evanston, Open Studio Project and Art Makers Outpost. Private contributions are also welcome. To donate, visit https://www.yeaevanston.org/sponsorship-donations.
YEA! will not ask for donations from small businesses, Washinushi said, “because they are all suffering due to COVID. They are struggling enough.”