Experience Aurora's Cultural Side

 Paramount Theatre in Aurora, IL
Paramount Theatre in Aurora, IL

The folks of Greater Aurora sure know how to throw a party. On Friday nights during the summer, as many as 10,000 people are literally dancing in the streets during Downtown Alive!, a continuing, family-oriented block party.

The event takes place from June through August, and was started five years ago as the brainchild of Aurora Mayor David Stover. Each week’s festivities on Downer Place, between Broadway and Stolp avenue, offer a different musical theme.

Sue Vos, President and CEO of the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, calls Downtown Alive! “the city’s gift to the citizens of Aurora.” But Vos is quick to point out the city's many other cultural offerings – from music festivals to cultural and sports events.

On Memorial Day weekend, Aurora’s Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures hosts its annual Pow-Wow. Native American tribes from around the country display traditional drumming and dancing. The two-day event also has more than 50 booths offering arts and crafts as well as traditional food.

“It’s very true to Native American traditions,” Vos says. “It’s such a wonderful family event.”

Early June brings the Mid-American Canoe Race on the Fox River. The race, organized by the Fox Valley Park District, follows a 14-mile course beginning at St. Charles and ending in Aurora. Thousands of spectators line the riverbanks to cheer on more than 500 teams of paddlers.

On Father’s Day weekend, the Fox Valley Blues Society presents Blues on the Fox. The critically acclaimed festival draws performers from all over the country; its Bluebird Stage spotlights legendary blues artists.

Another popular event is the Fox Valley Shakespeare Festival at Aurora University’s Perry Theatre. The Borealis Theatre Company, the school’s professional theater troupe in residence, performed a revival of the Ferenc Molnar farce The Play’s the Thing this past summer.

Aurora is also known for its many ethnic festivals, including the Puerto Rican Heritage Festival and Parade in July and the Fiesta Patria Mexican celebration in September. A popular neighborhood festival each August is Soulfest at May Street Park.

Of Paramount Importance

Some things about Aurora’s Paramount Theatre have changed since it opened its doors 73 years ago.

The vaudeville shows have given way to Broadway productions. Where once the theater on East Galena Boulevard hosted traditional circuses, today’s audiences are more likely to find high-tech Cirque de Soleil performances on the theater’s calendar.

But some things, however, have remained the same. The theater continues to enrich the lives of Aurora residents with star-quality entertainment. And its art-deco style continues to amaze and impress as much as the productions it stages, keeping it a top attraction for tourists.

“We bring 150,000 people into the community each year,” says Diana Martinez, executive director of the Aurora Civic Center Authority. The authority owns and operates the historical landmark theater.

Thousands of visitors coming to perform and produce at the theater “translates into millions of dollars in ancillary spending,” Martinez says. “Not only is it a cultural impact but it’s also a huge financial impact.”

The Paramount has actually been in Aurora since the 1920s, when Hollywood-based executives from Paramount Pictures wanted the theater to show their new talking movies. A few renovations were done in succeeding years, but the theater’s centerpiece is still a huge blue “flower” chandelier with more than 80 glass petals dangling from it.

The theater also occasionally hosts big-screen movie showings for the public. This includes a free Saturday Movies for Kids series each summer during school vacation months.

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