‘Billiken,’ Massive Projection Showcasing Black Joy In Chicago, At Art On The Mart This Week

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RIVER NORTH — A popular Bud-Billiken-themed projection is being brought back just in time for this weekend’s 94th annual Bud Billiken Parade.

“Billiken” is being showcased at Art on the Mart from Wednesday to Saturday, leading up to the Bud Billiken parade on Saturday.

The Bud Billiken Day Parade, the largest Black parade in the country, has been a Chicago fixture since 1929. It’s held annually on the second Saturday in August. The parade is named after a fictional character in the Chicago Defender newspaper, and was created to celebrate Black life in the city.

The projection debuted in 2022 and portrays the history of the parade, while also incorporating dance as a way to empower Chicago youth through art. Billiken features historic Chicago dance groups, including Geek Squad, the Jesse White Tumblers, K-Phi-9 and more.

South Side resident Shkunna Stewart, a director of Billiken, wanted children to learn about the South Side tradition, which may be new to some of them.

“Most people don’t understand the work that we do as dance presidents, CEOs and
organizers. We save lives through dance,” said Stewart at the 2022 Billiken premiere. “We give youth a place to be themselves, to build confidence and joy. Billiken shows that. It gives our kids something different and positive to focus on. Many of these dancers featured in Billiken have never been to the Riverwalk. They don’t know how beautiful our city is. This project is building bridges and broadening perspectives on all sides.”

Legendary Chicago musicians including DJ RP Boo worked on the projection to highlight the impact of house music and footwork in the city.

“When you hear music, you expect dance. We felt like the music part is definitely a big part of the culture… So it was very important to involve the DJ’s,” Stewart said.

Billiken is a great fit for Art on the Mart, which debuted in 2018 with goals of elevating voices and artists from underrepresented communities.

“Raising up local Black artists and performers has been a cornerstone of Art on the Mart’s mission since the project’s inception,” said Cynthia Noble, executive director of Art on the Mart. “Billiken is a tremendous presentation demonstrating the strength and vitality of Black culture in Chicago, and we are proud to give audiences a chance to see it again as we near the 94th annual Bud Billiken Parade.”

Art on the Mart can be best experienced from the jetty section of the Chicago Riverwalk on Wacker Drive between Wells Street and Franklin Street. Billiken will be shown every night through Saturday at 9 p.m.

The 94th annual Bud Billiken Parade will run south on King Drive from 39th Street to 55th Street on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m.

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