Enjoy food, art and live music in curated outdoor dining spaces along two of the West Side’s busiest thoroughfares – Chicago Avenue and Madison Street – during Austin’s first al fresco event that will be held Friday, Sept. 10th from noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m.
The al fresco, put on by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the city of Chicago, aims to create active community spaces by highlighting businesses and showcasing artwork, such as street planters painted by West Side and West Suburban artists.
“We’re creating arts and cultural spaces that are anchored to restaurants,” said Tina Augustus, the chamber’s executive director. “The purpose is to enhance the curb appeal and increase foot traffic along the corridors in Austin along Chicago Avenue.”
There will be interactive activities for people to stop and participate in, as well as vendor tables and resources for business owners. The hope is that events like this will bring local residents outside, bring patrons to local businesses, create networking opportunities and showcase talent within Austin.
“The goal is to allow people to be outside and interact in outdoor spaces in our community,” said Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association. “Outdoor events help create safe spaces, more eyes on the street.”
Volunteers came out earlier this week to help put flowers in the painted planters in the areas anchored by restaurants. Tables, chairs, umbrellas and metal partitions will also be added at a later time at no cost to the business owners.
The costs will be covered by the broader Chicago Al Fresco fund, a $2.3 million Choose Chicago initiative. The Austin Chamber of Commerce was selected to receive $127,000.
“It’s to aid the businesses and enhance the curb appeal,” Augustus said. “Many people drive through Austin — it’s like their highway to work — and they go straight through Austin.”
Augustus hopes al fresco features will cause people to stop in Austin and enjoy what the local restaurants and businesses have to offer.
“We have to keep pushing the envelope and keep doing things differently in order to change the community. The better it looks, the better people feel about,” said Crawford, who operates Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago Avenue will also be the destination for other events throughout the weekend: the Ghan-Again Festival on Saturday from 11 to 5 p.m. and the Soul City Blues Festival on Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.
The chamber hopes to hold other events that make use of the outdoor spaces, such as art exhibitions, book readings, music performances and more. Those interested in volunteering for future events or contributing their talents as an artist can visit the chamber’s website to fill out a registration form.