History of the Skokie Festival of Cultures

1990

A Skokie ethnic diversity project, VOICES (Valuing Our Image Concerning Ethnicity in Skokie), aims at promoting a better understanding between Skokie residents of different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. As part of the project, the Skokie Human Relations Commission, Skokie Park District, Rotary Club of Skokie, Village of Skokie and the Skokie Public Library initiate the planning of the first Skokie Festival of Cultures.

1991

The First Annual Skokie Festival of Cultures includes participants from the Assyrian, Austrian, Chinese, Filipino, German, Greek/Hellenic, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Israeli, Korean, Luxembourgian, Russian, and Swedish cultures. Held at Skokie's historic Oakton Park on June 15 and 16 for more than 1,000 attendees, the one-stage Festival features an opening flag ceremony, ethnic dance, food, art, and music — all elements integral to subsequent Festivals. Over the next 15 years, the following community and civic organizations also participate in the festival: Baha'i, Kiwanis, Niles Township School District 219, Rotary Club of Skokie, Rush North Shore Medical Center, Skokie Chamber of Commerce, Skokie Human Relations Commission, Skokie Lions Club, Skokie Park District, Skokie Public Library, Village of Skokie and VOICES. A first annual logo (at right) is created by a student at Niles North High School.

1992

Oakton Park hosts the second annual Festival on May 30 and 31. New participating cultures include Polish and Thai. New attractions include llama rides and cultural video presentations. A “Passport” event and ad program is utilized for the first time, encouraging visitors to visit all cultural booths. The Greek National Guard travels from Athens, Greece to perform.

1993

The third annual Oakton Park event, held on May 22 and 23, welcomes the African, Armenian and Pakistani cultures. A children's exhibit area is born, featuring camel and elephant rides, games, art, and diversity exhibits. A new Festival logo (right) also makes its debut and ‘Friends of the Festival' help fund the event. An Executive Board of the Planning Commitee and by-laws are created. The flag display is temporarily discontinued. The Festival wins the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association's Innovative Program Award.

1994

The Mexican culture joins the fourth annual Festival on May 21 and 22, bringing the total number of participating cultures to 15. A second “World Showcase” Stage is utilized for the first time, in addition to burro rides and the creation of a fundraising International Cookbook, featuring, among other recipes, the ficticious “Elephant Stew.”

1995

The fifth annual event at Oakton, held on May 20 and 21, welcomes the Italian, Norwegian and Panamanian cultures. A grant is received from the Illinois Arts Council, the first of many such fundings integral to the operation of future Festivals. More than 18,000 people attend. The Festival wins the National Recreation and Parks Association's (Great Lakes Region) Dorothy Mullen Arts and Humanities Program Award.

1996

Due to a two-year construction at Oakton Park, Old Orchard Junior High School hosts the sixth annual Festival on May 18 and 19. The event continues to feature ethnic dance and music on two stages, food and art, and the ‘It's a Small World' children's area. The Finnish culture joins 15 other participating cultures. The Festival wins the prestigious national Dorothy Mullen Arts Program Award for the second consecutive year.

1997

Hosted for the final time on the Old Orchard Jr. High grounds on May 17 and 18, the seventh annual Festival includes a daytime fireworks show and the International Kite Ballet as part of its opening ceremonies.

1998

Skokie's premier diversity celebration moves back to its home at Oakton Park on May 16 and 17, and welcomes the Haitian and Turkish cultures, bringing the total of participating cultures to 16. The Festival hits the World Wide Web at www.SkokieCultureFest.org.

1999

The event is held at Oakton Park on May 22 and 23. New cultures include Bangladeshi, Egyptian, French, and West Indian.

2000

Twenty-one veteran cultures are joined by the Cuban and Lebanese cultures on May 20 and 21 at Oakton Park. The popular flag display returns to the Festival, Stage West is renamed the “Traditions and Cultures Stage,” the governor sends a proclamation, and the Human Relations Commission begins a Festival poster/essay contest. The 10th Annual Festival welcomes more than 20,000 attendees.

2001

The Festival adds the Danish, Scottish, and Jamaican cultures to its 23 returning ethnic groups, and features a laser light show.

2002

The Festival adopts an annual theme, “United We Stand,” and welcomes the Croatian and Irish cultures on May 18 and 19. The event planning committee is now made up of more than 100 community volunteers, who meet year round prior to Skokie's largest annual outdoor celebration. The event features, by committee proclamation, a tribute to 9/11 victims.

2003

Hosted again by Oakton Park on May 17 and 18, the theme of “Peace Through Understanding” is carried out by 24 cultures.

2004

Twenty-eight cultures celebrate on the Oakton grounds, May 22 and 23, making “Many Cultures, One Heart” the perfect 14th annual Festival theme. The International Games area makes its debut, featuring soccer, Gaelic football, and hurling.

2005

The Belizean and Romanian cultures join a record 30 cultures at the 15th Annual Festival on May 21 and 22. More than 30,000 attend the Oakton Park event on a warm, sundrenched spring weekend.

2006

The 16th Annual Skokie Festival of Cultures is themed “One Village, Many Cultures.” Since 1991, the following cultures have participated in every event: Assyrian, Chinese, Filipino, Hellenic, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Swedish. Cultural participation and attendance have both more than doubled over 16 years. The 2006 festival welcomes 31 participating cultures (including the new Colombian culture), with as many as 25,000 visitors attending Skokie's renowned celebration of human diversity.

2007

The Festival welcomes more than 25,000 visitors on two beautiful sunny days. Puerto Rican joins as a new culture.

2008

After seeing the Festival on WGN-TV's morning news the day before opening, more than 32,000 attend the 18th Annual Festival on May 17 and 18. Traditional Japanese archery, Ssireum (Korean wrestling), and rugby debut as new International Games. New cultures include Hungarian, Slovakian, and Tibetan.

2009

The Festival attracted a record 35,000 at Oakton Park on May 16 and 17, 2009. New and returning cultures included Canadian, German and Italian.

2010

The 20th Annual event featured a new layout of the grounds and another 35,000+ visitors. New cultures included Iranian and Czech Republic.

2011

More than 32,000 attended the 21st Annual Skokie Festival of Cultures on a bright, sunny May weekend.The new Laotian culture joined 33 other ethnic communities.

2012

The 22nd Annual Festival featured the new attraction, Schaefer's International Beer Tasting and welcomed the Bosnian culture to the festival. Attendees made their way through the two-day event, with a mini train circling the grounds and an Assyrian crowd packing the main stage area for the Sunday closing act.

2013

Skokie’s unique cultural journey kicked off when visitors received their free “Passport to the World,” the official guide to all festival happenings. The passport helped thousands of attendees make their way through the 19-acre park full of attractions. Binny’s hosted the international beer tent and 35 cultures helped organize the event.

2014

Organizers estimate that more than 25,000 attended the festival. New cultures included Azerbaijani and Iraqi, and Whole Foods hosted the international beer tasting.

2015

Oakton Park hosted the 25th Annual Skokie Festival of Cultures. After a quarter of a century celebrating Skokie’s diversity, the event has hosted more than 450,000 attendees, as well as cultural entertainers and booths representing more than 90 cultures. The festival, once a one-stage event hosting 1,000 attendees, is now one of the largest and acclaimed ethnic festivals in Illinois.

2016

After International Short Films kick off the Festival on Friday evening, 27,000 visitors attend the Skokie Festival of Cultures on a warm spring weekend. New cultures include Cambonian and Lithuanian.

2017

Three dozen organizing cultures and Skokie's local public agencies begin preparing for the 27th Skokie Festival of Cultures.