Urbana Sweetcorn Festival goes virtual


Elizabeth Sayasane

The organizers of the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival set up a stand in the parking lot of the Lincoln Square Mall. Community members can drive by and pick up bags of sweet corn as well as commemorative totes and face masks.

By Elizabeth Sayasane, Features Editor

The city of Champaign held its first Sweetcorn Festival 45 years ago in 1975. It gathered the community together and created a long tradition celebrating local performers, local businesses and, of course, the locally grown sweet corn.

With the country in the midst of a global pandemic, the festival could not be carried out in its usual fashion. However, the Urbana Business Association and the Urbana Arts and Culture Program ensured that the city would not go entirely without celebrating.

Abigale Racine, marketing and events manager for the UBA, helped coordinate the virtual festival this year.

“It was super heartbreaking and a difficult decision for us to cancel this event, but we know it was the safest one for a community and we’re always always going to put the safety of our community first,” she said.

Though Racine just moved to Urbana about a year ago, she said she has been preparing for the festival the whole time. After she settled into her new position with the UBA, she would often get questions about the progress in planning the festival.

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“I have people in the dead of winter asking me about how preparation for the Sweetcorn Festival is coming along and they always share how excited they are about it,” Racine said.

She understood how important the Sweetcorn Festival was. It was not just a way to promote the small businesses and local performers, but also a way to bring the community together.

Since deciding to cancel the in-person event several months ago, Racine, along with UBA Executive Director Darius White, have been planning how to adapt the festival.

On Friday, the city hosted a drive-through corn event at the Lincoln Square Mall parking lot. The first 300 customers received half a dozen sweet corn and a reusable Virtual Urbana Sweetcorn Festival 2020 tote bag for $5. They also sold sweetcorn by the dozen as well as a commemorative PPE mask.

Madeline Molina, a summer intern for the Urbana Arts and Culture Program, volunteered at the event distributing sweet corn.

Molina is from Urbana and attended the festival last year. She said even though an in-person event with all the vendors and performers was not possible this year, it was a good idea to have a socially-distanced alternative.

“I think it’s really important during these times to not put everything on hold and to still try to continue things as much as we can,” she said. “This is just a really great community trying to bring some light and positivity to such an unprecedented situation.”

On Saturday, the Urbana Sweetcorn Facebook page hosted a Facebook live event from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. This event included performances for children including story times, a demonstration of toys and games from the prairie and a video about wildlife in their own backyard.

A majority of the virtual festival, though, was comprised of past performances at the Sweetcorn Festival. Scott Schwartz, the University’s director and archivist for music and fine arts for the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music has been largely in charge of coordinating this effort.

Schwartz has been doing the Sweetcorn Festival’s One Community Together programming for more than 10 years. When trying to figure out how to adapt the festival, Schwartz proposed doing a remembrance of performances from years past.

“We want to remember what makes our community such a wonderful place to be and essentially that’s the whole purpose for the One Community Together,” Schwartz said.

Each piece consisted of a full performance from a variety of past musicians, whose music played while photos of the bands performing were on the screen. This event showcased the great musical talent living within Champaign-Urbana. Schwartz hoped to convey how exceptional the city is in regard to the performing arts and history.

“Our community is a diverse (and) rich cultural hub that is able to produce great music we have great museum collections great exhibitions and so forth,” he said. “You don’t have to go to Chicago, D.C. (or) New York to see great historical stuff or just great music. It’s all here, it’s all local and that’s what makes us so special.”

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