Cinco de Mayo is one festival that can be counted on NOT to leave St. Louis, let alone the Cherokee Street neighborhood. Every year, St. Louisans have been adding new dimensions to this festival. In 2008, local artists began what’s become Cinco de Mayo’s official parade, the People’s Joy Parade.
This parade calls to the inner-artist in everyone. It is, primarily, a pedestrian parade made up of St. Louis hula hoop troops, roller derby girls, bike brigades and anyone else who wishes to join in. And you can start getting ready now, with workshops throughout the month of April. Workshop attendants can build a gigante and become both puppet and puppeteer or come as a group to create a float. Few ideas are too daring for this parade.
Jenny Shriner of the Community, Arts and Movement Project (C.A.M.P.) on Cherokee organizes the parade. Her calendar is packed as she helps bring people and art supplies together. “With bamboo strips and duct tape you can bring just about any idea into being,” she said.
Shriner sends workshop invitations to area schools and neighborhood groups and posts on social networks, drawing in as wide a swath of the community as possible.
Each year the parade is born anew with the inventiveness of local talents and the magic of spontaneity. Shriner remembers the collaboration with the Turner Center for the Arts as a highlight of the 2013 parade. The Turner Center serves aspiring artists whose lives are challenged by developmental disabilities, mental illness or brain injury. Working with the Turner Center revealed ways in which the arts are truly empowering, she said.
Shriner and the many volunteers who organize the parade and events leading up to it maintain an open and democratic atmosphere as they try to coordinate this unscripted happening. An underlying optimism runs through creation of this event, a belief that community involvement in public art personalizes the places we love and builds social bonds.
In 2008, artists Sarah Paulson and Lindsey Scott led a small procession of costumed artists through the Cinco de Mayo merrymaking. This collaboration came after a personal transformative experience for Paulson. Local children in Ayacucho, Peru, invited Paulson to join the play and dance of a parade in the mountain streets. Her adventure in the Andes planted a seed of an idea that developed into the People’s Joy Parade.
The idea has conceptual cousins in more places than Peru. Portland, Maine, welcomes the spring with a procession of masked and costumed pedestrians, as do the Minnesota twin cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Similar events are created by Milwaukee artists each Labor Day; and people in Seattle celebrate the summer solstice. But by their very nature each such event is unique, with every participant altering the outcome as they add their energy and imagination.
The Cinco de Mayo Street Festival is on Saturday, May 3 this year, from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The People’s Joy Parade begins at the corner of Minnesota and Cherokee at 1:11 p.m.. Drop-in participants may come to the parking lot early for face painting and last-minute costume creations.
But opportunities abound for everyone to join in the planning. Artist-led workshops are held at C.A.M.P. throughout April. Every Sunday in April from 1-2 p.m. Celia Shacklett will lead a singing workshop for children and adults to participate in the Footbeat Choir. A children’s costume-making workshop will follow from 2-3:30 p.m. Float and costume workshops for adults are held from 5:30-8:30 p.m., every Tuesday .
Those who want to help may come to the volunteer meet-up at 6 p.m. April 2. The main fundraiser is JoyRita StL, a “Margarita-off,” featuring Cherokee Street mixologists and restaurants competing for recognition and street cred. ($15 at the event, $10 in advance)
For more information on the People’s Joy Parade contact Jenny Shriner at C.A.M.P. 3022A Cherokee, 314-827-4730 firstname.lastname@example.org
Video footage from last year:
For more of Sam Washburn's work, go to the St. Louis Beacon website