Municipal Mirth: Chicago’s Neighborhood Festivals, 1979

Neighborhood festivals are synonymous with summer here in Chicago. Every weekend, you can find multiple festivals going on all over the city, and while they may vary greatly in terms of size and scope, each one showcases the distinct culture and atmosphere of its respective neighborhood.

In 1979, Mayor Jane Byrne’s plan to cancel ChicagoFest, which had been started the previous year by her predecessor, Mayor Michael Bilandic, was met with public outcry. As a result, Byrne not only decided to keep ChicagoFest (rebranding it “Mayor Byrne’s ChicagoFest”) but also ordered her Special Events office to create a number of new festivals.

The most successful festival created was probably Taste of Chicago, which started in 1980, but the Special Events office also saw to the creation of dozens of small neighborhood festivals in 1979 as part of Mayor Byrne’s Summertime Chicago program. That program was documented in 1979 by Chicago filmmakers Nick Despota, Scott Jacobs, and John Mabey for a thirty-minute piece called “Municipal Mirth,” which first aired on Image Union in October of ’79.

The push to create new festivals isn’t over. This year, Redmoon Theater is partnering with the City to do the Great Chicago Fire Festival, 15 events in 15 neighborhoods culminating with a huge fire celebration on the Chicago River in October.

The video below highlights two of six festivals featured in “Municipal Mirth”: Chinatown Summer Fair, which still exists today and will be held again this Sunday, and a festival in Englewood that featured a road race.

You can watch the full half-hour documentary at Media Burn Archive, which includes footage of four other festivals located in the South Shore, Beverly Hills, Cabrini–Green, and North Lincoln neighborhoods.



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