Boocoo cafe attracts political set

Katie Park

A vibrant mural of booming speakers and a crowd of singers lines the walls of Boocoo Cultural Center and Café, representing two of the founding values of the center: art and music.

But a separate wall devoted to flyers for protests, campaigns and volunteering indicates the hub for political activity that Boocoo has become.

A group of artists and musicians opened Boocoo, 1823 Church St., in 2007 because they saw the need for a cultural venue in the area, said Boocoo Programs and Administrative Coordinator Alicia Hempfling. It now offers facilities and programs such as a recording studio, music and dance lessons and a café.

“Since we’re situated right across from the high school, we could be a safe place where kids could come and involve themselves in being creative,” Hempfling said. “But it’s not just for kids. It’s for people of all ages.”

In addition to cultural activities, Boocoo has seen a rise in events held by city government and political groups. The café recently hosted a benefit concert for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund and a city council reception for University President Morton O. Schapiro.

Hempfling said many political figures host events at Boocoo to display to Evanston residents the neighborhood’s cultural activity.

“We’re here in an area that seems to be underserved in comparison to other areas of Evanston,” Hempfling said. “It’s a good place to start to revitalize this area.”

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), who held her campaign kickoff and other events at Boocoo, said the events at the café try to enhance awareness of the area.

“Most people don’t realize that the west side (of Evanston) exists,” Holmes said. “There’s a very vibrant community over here.”

Holmes said she thinks of Boocoo as a cultural facility rather than a political one.

“It was built by the community, for the community,” she said. “I’ve never thought of it as political.”

Hempfling said she does not think the community sees Boocoo mostly as a political center, but if so, it “just happened that way.”

“We’re at a fairly busy intersection where politicians are able to connect with people of the community who may not have a lot to do with political causes,” Hempfling said.

Boocoo does not have any political alliances, Hempfling said, because it wants to remain an open forum for discussion.

However, she said Boocoo wants to be known as a socially conscious setting. For example, the center sells free-trade products and is geothermally heated and cooled.

“A lot of community efforts can also be considered political efforts as well,” she said. “We’re really trying to expand awareness of ecological problems and how we can help.”

Hempfling said she thinks politicians want to show support for the center’s youth programs.

“We want to get kids involved with activities rather than hanging out on the street corner,” she said. “They’re getting the idea that there are other things in life that are possible for them.”

For Eamon Kelly, who kicked off his campaign for 18th district state representative at Boocoo, the center’s youth programs influenced his decision to hold events there. He also holds meetings over coffee at Boocoo with members of the community.

“It’s a strong statement about the progress we’re making as a community to provide young people with places to go after school,” Kelly said. “I wanted to support that.”

Although Kelly thinks of Boocoo as a community center first, politics are part of the community, and the café is committed to showing the variety of Evanston’s community as a whole, he said.

“It’s a good place to bring groups all together,” Kelly said. “My hunch is that it will continue to grow.”

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