Community partners share what they appreciate most about the seven-year-old festival of family-friendly activities
By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Historical photos submitted
How has ComoFest developed from a small ice cream social with a few hundred people to a month-long event drawing in thousands?
Ask the organizers and they’ll point to how the festival strengthens the community while pulling in neighborhood partners. Plus, it’s fun.
“ComoFest has an established reputation of building the community through family-fun events,” stated Lyngblomsten Director of Lifelong Learning and the Arts Andrea Lewandoski. In 2012, Lyngblomsten integrated its annual “Mid-Summer Festival” into ComoFest.
“The events allow for an open, friendly atmosphere, the opportunity for community members to meet and speak with local artists, hear live music from local bands and musicians, and provide the chance for community members to visit local businesses and restaurants,” said Lewandowski. “Fine food and a variety of arts and wellness activities add to the festive fun during the entire month of July.”
“When folks think about Como Park, they typically think of the park and zoo, which is a huge draw and major asset to this neighborhood,” remarked AndreaLynn Johnson. “But ComoFest is giving families throughout the Twin Cities and surrounding area another reason to visit the neighborhood—for the food, the music, the arts, to explore new events, and meet new people in Como that they didn’t know. It is a way to highlight what the people of the community have to offer the greater Twin Cities community.”
Johnson has been part of the festival since the beginning when she coordinated the first art crawl. That year, five artists opened up their studios and homes, including Johnson. Over the years, the art crawl has evolved into an art fair that she continues to organize.
What’s kept her involved over the years?
“I love finding unique ways to promote the arts, and doing so in this non-juried art fair has been a wonderful way to highlight local artists,” said Johnson. “I have enjoyed not only seeing the community come together for one unified event or focus, but getting to know my fellow community members and business even better.”
“The willingness to volunteer time and genuine love for the neighborhood shown by the community is unmatched,” Johnson said.
Photo right: Artist AndreaLynn Johnson (at right) has helped organize the art fair since its inception. “I love finding unique ways to promote the arts, and doing so in this non-juried art fair has been a wonderful way to highlight local artists,” said Johnson. “I have enjoyed not only seeing the community come together for one unified event or focus but getting to know my fellow community members and business even better.”
“This has strengthened our working bonds for sure,” said Darcy Rivers, St. Paul Parks and Recreation Community Recreation Director of Programming. “Having the opportunity to work with District 10, Lyngblomsten and others is a no-brainer. We all service the same people, combine our resources, learn from each other, receive new contacts and develop friendships.”
One thing that sets ComoFest apart is that each event operates independently. “There’s no grand planning committee,” explained Michael Kuchta, District 10 Executive Director. “But we do collaborate, we do support each other, and we do coordinate as much as we can on things like logistics, advertising, and publicity.”
This year’s partners include Lyngblomsten, St. Paul Parks and Recreation, Topline Federal Credit Union, The Underground Music Cafe, Honest-1 Auto Care, Como Dockside Lakeside Pavilion, and Como Park – Falcon Heights Living at Home Block Nurse Program. Humphrey Job Corps Center supplies volunteers.
From a weekend to a month
Instead of cramming everything into one weekend, this year there will be eight events spread out over four weekends. “We’re hoping that gives neighbors a chance to sample activities in a way that fits their schedules,” explained Kuchta. “If they happen to be out of town one weekend, or already booked solid for one weekend, they’ve still got a chance to check out a half-dozen other events.”
The festival started with the North Dale Movie Night on July 8 and the ComoFest Art Fair on July 9.
• District 10 Ice Cream Social on July 15;
• ComoFest 5K Walk/Run for Everyone on July 17;
• Lyngblomsten Mid-Summer Festival: A Celebration of Arts & Lifelong Learning on July 22;
• Community Appreciation Picnic on July 23;
• Northwest Como Campout on July 29; and
• the Block Party at UMC on July 30-31.
“Don’t miss any of it,” urged Rivers. “Each event brings a new flavor of activity that is representative of the neighborhood.”
“The evolution of ComoFest from one small event to a month-long series of events has been due to our want to include more partners within and outside of District 10, wanting to include a wider variety of activities and by spreading the activities out over a month, giving families a better opportunity to attend more of the ComoFest events,” said Johnson.
Work in progress
ComoFest is a continual work in progress with new ideas and community members, observed Rivers.
River remembers the meeting in 2010 that gave birth to ComoFest. She and then-District 10 Community Council Coordinator Rhonda DeBough recognized that people couldn’t afford to travel because of the recession, and they decided to offer the District 10 Staycation. They combined the Northwest Como Movie Night with District 10’s Art Crawl, Garden Tour, and Bike Ride, along with the Chelsea Heights PTO Flea Market and Coffee Grounds Music Festival on one weekend.
The festival also offered residents a way to discover a little bit more about their neighborhood.
“In that way, nothing’s changed,” remarked Kuchta. “You can still experience ComoFest without spending a dime. It’s still family oriented, and it features a variety of very simple, very low-key, but enjoyable events that expose you to some of what’s available right in your own backyard.”
Some events come and go, he noted, but the essence is still the same.
“It’s not a big festival that shuts down streets and disrupts people’s lives for a couple of days. We’ve got enough high-impact activity in our neighborhood. ComoFest is actually the opposite of that.”
Spreading through Como
Kuchta is excited to see the event growing to include more than just the intersection of Hamline and Hoyt, where things were centered at the beginning. “For the first time this year, we’ve got something going on east of the lake—with North Dale’s movie night—and something going on in South Como—with TopLine’s cookout. I’m hoping we can build on that, so we really do tie in the whole neighborhood,” he stated.
Como Park – Falcon Heights Living at Home Block Nurse Program initially got involved with Comofest by invitation from District 10. The community non-profit began with an information table at the ice cream social and that morphed into sponsoring a 5K run/walk around Como Lake last year.
“It turned out better than we thought,” recalled Executive Director Jody McCardle. “And we loved meeting neighbors who were glad to learn about how we help seniors remain in their homes safely. We even had a few runners become volunteers for our program.”
“Many of the seniors we work with talk about their love of Como Lake and their everyday walks around Como Lake with family and friends—so in a way it is a continuum of celebrating our seniors in our community and the natural resources of District 10 that we treasure,” McCardle added.
All part of Como Park
The Como area is in high demand from people all over the state and visitors, pointed out Rivers. While the community cherishes the Como resources and shares them, residents also value their neighborhoods. ComoFest helps with community identity, strengthens the neighborhood and takes back the space.
“It sounds cliché, but anything that gets us out from behind our own fences helps build community,” said Kuchta. “Something like ComoFest can eliminate, in small ways, the physical barriers that separate parts of our neighborhood: Which side of the park you are on, which side of the tracks you are on, are you in a home or an apartment? Doesn’t matter—you’re still part of Como Park.”