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Community Leaders Hope to Inspire Auburn-Gresham with 13th Annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival

In many low-income neighborhoods, it’s hard for some residents to imagine a large-scale event in their area that promotes positivity, unity, and safety without the fear of violence and hate that could occur in such a populated space. However, the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) has proven this to be far from true for 12 years straight, thanks to their annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival.

Hosted by GAGDC for the 13th time this year, the 79th Street Renaissance Festival is the largest and longest running festival on the South Side of Chicago and will take place on Saturday, September 8 and Sunday, September 9. With a record of 23,000 attendees as of 2017, the 79th Street Festival includes over a dozen food vendors, retailers, games, performances, and organizations from across the Chicago area and beyond.

Basketball hoops set up for kids and teens to enjoy at the RenFest

 “It’s been a mixed experience because I’ve been here for over 25 years, so I got to see the neighborhood before we were able to make these great changes in the community,” Khayeem Anderson says. “Initially, it was bad but now it’s quite the opposite.”

Mr. Anderson, a long-time resident of Auburn-Gresham and Assistant Project Manager for GAGDC, manages the organization’s special service areas, SSA #32 and SSA #69 and mostly deals with the business districts and communicating with business owners.

“It reminded me more of West Englewood,” Mr. Anderson says. “The crime was high, and the area was very dangerous, but there were a lot of stable business owners and now you can see that the community continues to change.”

Architectural intern James Tarala admits that he has never had a bad experience at the festival, despite the preconceived notions of the area from others.

“The South Side isn’t exactly how people perceive it,” Mr. Tarala says. “That’s why I really wanted to work here and help change that stigma.”

However, the Renaissance Festival has given GAGDC a chance to merge these businesses with their consumers by providing an interactive, safe environment for them to interact, network and get to know each other on a personal level.

“It’s a one-stop shop for people who may not venture out to see what’s in the community,” SSA #32 Commissioner Kathryn Welch says. “It creates an opportunity for businesses to come together and for other people to be exposed to things that they may not seek out otherwise.”

Although organizing an event can involve many struggles, obstacles, and headaches, it’s also very rewarding to see it all come together in the most beautiful way.

“It’s the safest place to be in the city during that time,” Ms. Welch says. “With the amount of security provided, children are able to have a safe space to play and the diversity in music is phenomenal.”


Executive director Carlos Nelson has been involved in the process since 2006, when the idea first surfaced and was brought into fruition by the team.

“For me, the most memorable moment was sitting outside on the bench the morning before the festival opened,” Mr. Nelson says. “Seeing the streets blocked off and knowing that we helped put this together was truly satisfying to see.”

For others, such as Mr. Anderson in particular, the biggest reward is being able to help the community in which he lives, whether it’s financially or working to beautify the area to match the beautiful personalities within Auburn-Gresham.


"I think it will become a household name in the future," Ms. Welch says. "This will become an anniversary event that is a part of our fabric and what GAGDC is all about."anniversary event that is a part of our fabric and what GADC is all about."

"GAGDC Hopes to Inspire Auburn-Gresham with the 13th Annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival" - Cheyenne Tatum

For more information on the 79th Street Renaissance Festival, visit  

Keywords: 79th street, 79th Street Renaissance Festival, GAGDC, Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation. GAGDC, Renaissance Festival, RenFest

Posted in Community Highlights