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One of the most powerful tools for building a connection between people is art. Complete strangers will sing together in camaraderie at a music concert, weep in solidarity at a tragic play, or feel bonded to their unknown neighbors as they listen to prose being recited by a favorite author. The Granfalloon festival, held May 9-11, serves to do this as well: bring people together, essentially by chance, and create a sense of belonging within them.
Named after a term coined by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in his book Cat’s Cradle, the Granfalloon is a three-day event organized by the IU Arts and Humanities Council with the goal of fostering collaborations and raising the profile of the city and campus arts scene. It is a multi-faceted event featuring academic presentations, music, drama, and art. “It is a celebration of the leading edge of Indiana art and ideas,” says Ed Comentale, Director of the Arts and Humanities Council. “Vonnegut is our guiding spirit.”
An important component of the festival is music, which Vonnegut said was the proof of the existence of God. The Granfalloon will present shows at The Bluebird and The Bishop on Friday evening, with national acts like Khruangbin, Sudan Archives, Chrome Sparks, and Barrie. The shows will also celebrate the local music scene with performances from Bloomington-based Huckleberry Funk and Austin White.
Saturday evening of the festival will bring Neko Case, Parquet Courts, and Durand Jones and the Indications to the outdoor stage at Upland Brewing Company. Along with Upland beer and food, the event will feature other local vendors Rainbow Bakery, C3, Soma, and Hopscotch Coffee. “We are expanding the food and drink options from last year and giving more local businesses an opportunity to be involved,” says Joe Hiland, Associate Director with the Arts and Humanities Council.
Local choral group Voces Novae will perform two concerts that weekend featuring the world premiere of Vonnegut’s Requiem. The group commissioned nationally and internationally acclaimed composers to create music for chamber choirs and instruments to go with Vonnegut’s text, which is part of The Lilly Library’s archive of Vonnegut writings.
This is the second year of the festival, and Comentale looks to build on the success of last year while expanding the offerings. “Last year our program focused primarily on Vonnegut,” he says. “This year, we’ll be using Vonnegut as our inspiration but branching out into more contemporary topics and forms of creative expression.” One example is a panel discussion with Hoosier authors, presented in partnership with Indiana Humanities, with the authors examining their work and the works of other Indiana writers.
There will also be a writing workshop for high school students, hosted by Ivy Tech Community College, utilizing graduate students from IU to lead the workshops. This program is a great example of how the festival is pulling together residents and resources from both IU and the Bloomington community. And there are many more partnerships created through the festival, according to Hiland. “We looked for existing programs and organizations that could incorporate our theme and folded them into the Granfalloon,” Hiland says.
A read-a-thon will take place on April 5 leading up to the festival, starting at the Wells Library with an aptly titled Breakfast of Champions that will feature food and giveaways. The event then moves to area coffee shops and bookstores for readings of Vonnegut’s work.
WonderLab Museum will host WonderLab After Dark: The Science of Vonnegut on the Friday evening of the festival, May 9, with hands-on science activities based on some of the author’s works, like exploring the physics of the deadly Ice-Nine from Cat’s Cradle. The band Flashback to Never will provide musical entertainment, and food and drink will be provided at this adults-only event.
During the festival weekend, Cardinal Stage will present Vonnegut on Stage: War, Technology, and Unintended Consequences, readings of two Vonnegut pieces from the Lilly Library Vonnegut archive that have never been presented on stage before. “We’re bringing together academic, scholarly, and artistic works from the campus and the community,” says Hiland.
The Granfalloon is also bringing nationally known artists and academics to Bloomington. Dave Eggers, the keynote speaker of the academic conference, is the author of such books as The Circle, What Is the What, and The Monk of Mokha, and founder of the publishing company McSweeney’s. Eggers will be speaking at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on the Friday evening of the festival and working with a group of high school writers on Saturday. Several other academic panels will be hosted in the Council Chambers at City Hall, a nod to the importance Vonnegut placed on civic engagement.
The Granfalloon will offer numerous opportunities to celebrate Vonnegut, his home state, and a variety of artistic and scholarly endeavors. Most of the academic portions of the festival will be free admission, while the music, Cardinal Stage, and WonderLab events are ticketed. “We create multiple points of engagement at the festival,” says Comentale. “We hope this allows guests to discover new artists, scholars, and ideas once they’re here.”
Developing creativity and independent thought are essential to a person’s well-being, a concept that was important to Vonnegut. The Granfalloon festival hopes to create a granfalloon of people who celebrate this idea and being part of this Hoosier community.
The Granfalloon will take place May 9–11 at various Bloomington venues. More information can be found at go.iu.edu/granfalloon.
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