Illini Fest debuts

Thousands of Illini gather at Chicago’s iconic “Bean” sculpture to celebrate the University

Chancellor Robert J. Jones welcomed a crowd of more than 5,000 Illini fans and friends. (Image by Diane Smutney)
Thousands of Illini gather at Chicago’s iconic “Bean” sculpture to celebrate the University

More than 5,000 alumni, friends and fans of the University came together on July 18 at the Park Grill in Chicago’s Millennium Park for the University’s first Illini Fest, a celebration of all things Illinois.

Spearheaded by the offices of Chancellor Robert J. Jones and Chief Marketing Officer Eric Minor, ’87 ENG, the event called on the participation of nearly every facet of the University, from academics to athletics to campus activities.

Booths and displays ranging from academics to athletics to campus activities led some to liken the event to Quad Day North. (Image by Diane Smutny)

“We were excited to bring the many amazing University of Illinois experiences— from athletics to science to performance art—to Chicagoland where we have over 150,000 alumni!” Minor says. “It was fantastic to see the tremendous response from our Chicago alumni, students, fans and friends.”

Held at the Park Grill in Millennium Park, the event offered displays and activities set up around the popular Bean sculpture. (Image by Diane Smutny)

Demographically, the turnout ranged from recent graduates to baby boomers—everyone from grandparents to potential students. (Image by Diane Smutny)

Chicago is home to a number of summer “fests” celebrating the city’s food, culture, music and style. The success of the inaugural Illini Fest suggests it will become part of this seasonal tradition. (Image by Diane Smutny)

Notable Illinois ambassadors included Chancellor Jones, Provost Andreas Cangellaris and Athletics Director Josh Whitman, ’01 BUS, JD ’08. They were joined by football Head Coach Lovie Smith, members of the Fighting Illini, the men’s a cappella group (The Other Guys), performers from the Krannert Center’s Lyric Theatre and yes, even Alma Mater herself.

No stranger to Chicago, football Head Coach Lovie Smith greeted fans and raised spirits. (Image by Diane Smutny)

Popular men’s a cappella group the Other Guys entertained the crowd. (Image by Diane Smutny)

Alma Mater even managed to make the trip and found herself surrounded by fans. (Image by Diane Smutny)

In addition, attendees received salsa dancing lessons from noted dancer and Illini basketball player, Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

Ads touting the event flooded social media and graced Chicago-area public transportation and electronic billboards. Demographically, the turnout ranged from recent graduates to baby boomers.

Even the city got into the act. As dusk settled, proud Illini couldn’t help but notice that the spires of the Willis Tower were lit up in bright Orange and Blue.

At evening’s end, Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower got in on the act, proudly displaying Orange and Blue spires.  (Image by Diane Smutny)