It’s one thing to run a festival every year, but Lotus has done far more for Bloomington than merely bring on the global good times. It runs an educational outreach program/celebration every spring for more than 10,000 elementary students in southern Indiana, as well as regular world music shows year-round. It has been instrumental in boosting the spirit of Bloomington’s quirky downtown, right down to playing a crucial role in saving its architecturally and historically significant main-street theater, now a centerpiece of Bloomington’s performing arts. It has helped bring art out of galleries and museums and collections, and to the town’s streets and parks. And Lotus helped spawn a consortium of music festivals spanning the middle of the country, in Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, and Cedar Rapids.
With a natural ingenuity characteristic of Lotus, the visual component of the festival’s vivid musical offerings sprang very organically from the festival itself. Though Lotus had long tried to add a visual arts component, mostly through traditional art shows, no one felt satisfied with the results and with the art’s isolation from the rest of the festivities. Then, one night, festival director Lee Williams saw a striking, colorful backdrop a performer had brought with him.
“Something clicked,” Williams said in a press release. “Our visual art approach flowed from that backdrop. It became all about taking arts to the street, bringing it outdoors, doing it on big scale.” Outdoor installations include family-friendly projects festival-goers can help create, as well as an arts village.
Taking it to the street didn’t end with art installations. Another beloved, much anticipated element of Lotus came about equally as spontaneously.
“One night, Gangbe Brass Band from Benin just walked out of the tent where they were performing and played their instruments as they went down the street,” Williams said. “Because it’s Bloomington, the audience followed of course. Everyone loved it. Then we started doing processions.”