Superman Jax (Clementine Carragher) outside the OutCenter
I first visited the Arts District in Benton Harbor on a vacation to find a brewery in a barn. Turns out it was the Livery, and my description was a little off, but the beer was tasty! I was instantly intrigued by the area, taken in by the creative energy. The buildings are sparse, and the spaces between teem with a gritty originality that can only be fostered by such an environment. I loved the vibe, and took that impression back to Maine with me each time I left.
A cross-country move and five years later, I’m in Michigan’s Great Southwest as a full-time resident. Benton Harbor became home, and I found a job working for St. Joseph Today. My job meant learning about the people who live, work and play here, and about the businesses and organizations that support them. It took me to beaches and vineyards, and also into the Benton Harbor Arts District.
Clockwise: staff from the Livery Microbrewery | mystery guest and Abel, chef and co-owner at the Mason Jar Cafe | representatives of Benton Harbor DDA, Benton Harbor Library, Benton Harbor Schools
On Halloween, St. Joseph Today held their first collaborative event in the Arts District. A group of dedicated members decided to give Trick-or-Treating a go; we planned on echoing the event that happens each year in downtown St. Joseph. The OutCenter, Water Street Glassworks, both Citadel campuses, the Livery, the Mason Jar and their Sweet Bar, and the Benton Harbor Library all jumped on board, ready to man their businesses for costumed kids. With their commitment voiced, the city volunteered to move their Trunk-or-Treat over to the Arts District. As the event grew, the schools jumped in, bringing the Benton Harbor High School Marching Band for a performance. Soon, we were figuring out how we could fit a 25-foot boat into the event- the Coast Guard wanted to participate, too!
I reached out to Adam Bohland, of Zion Evangelical UCC, to help. We scheduled the event for 4:30-6:00, and knowing the schools were coming, his congregation volunteered to offer dinner for attendees. With some bread donated from Jimmy John’s and power from the OutCenter, they set up on Water Street to serve dinner (and candy, of course!).
As a brand-new event, attendance was anyone’s guess. To be honest, I was nervous. I knew the members had worked hard to make this event happen, and had piles of candy waiting in their buildings. The list I had for other attendees was vague, I’d never met the organizer from the school, and I have no idea how to park a boat (let alone a car, but you can ask my husband about that).
Clockwise: Coast Guard passes out candy, stickers and more | Water Street | tiny Trick-or-Treater at the Livery | Zion UCC's tent outside the OutCenter
By 5:00, Water Street was packed. Kat Boyer, the interim Director of the Benton Harbor Library was the center of the festivities in Art’s Park. She had spooky stories, bags for trick or treaters sponsored by Holt Bosse, and knew most of the kids by name.
It was festive; a community gathering and safe space, filled with laughing kids and plenty of candy. Each participating organization was happily busy, engaging with the community in their space.
Clockwise: Benton Harbor Marching Band | Color Guard | a rapt audience | a tiger-striped tuba
The band kicked off, and kids were mesmerized (including my own). Coming in costume, the Benton Harbor High School Marching Band brought the spirit of the event up another level. Everyone gathered at the end of Water Street, watching the dancers and tapping their toes to the drums.
I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The event felt full circle to me- I was attending this amazing event in a space I’d always been fond of, and my daughter was with me. It was a privilege to help make it happen, and to see the community in action.
Moving is tough, period. For me (an experienced mover), this one has been the toughest of all. As I looked around the Arts District on Monday, October 31st, I truly felt like I had found home.
Many, many thanks to everyone who made this event possible, and to everyone who attended and made attendance possible for others. I’m excited for next year already…and I’ll work on those boat-parking skills.
Rapunzel and Superman Jax (bag by Holt Bosse!)