Arts in the Dark 2023: An Artistic Way To Celebrate Halloween

AIC Lion


By Ginny Van Alyea

Halloween can be enjoyed in many ways beyond trick or treating, and one distinctly artistic way to celebrate this year is to attend the 9th annual Arts in the Dark Halloween Parade, a family-friendly happening presented by LUMA8 (Light Up My Arts), an independent not-for-profit that strives to elevate Chicago as a focal point of artistic innovation to enrich the lives of its citizens and create economic impact. The parade takes place at night and features unique floats, spectacle puppets and all forms of creative performance. 

The co-founder and artistic director of Arts in the Dark Halloween Parade is former Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Mark Kelly. Kelly shared, “I am very excited to have the League of Chicago Theatres, in partnership with BandWith Chicago, leading the parade,” this year. On some of the specific featured groups, he commented, “Reinvent Ability and their wheelchair dancers will join over 40 dance organizations, while several striking IATSE film locals will remind us of their importance to the cultural life of our city. The amazing creative life of our city is truly captured in this playful and singular event.”

Arts in the Dark came about when Sharene Shariatzadeh, the then Executive Director of the Chicago Cultural Mile organization, was tasked with producing a Halloween parade and she contacted Kelly because of his work leading the  Columbia College Wabash Arts Corridor initiative. Kelly remembers, "Having thought for many years about the creative potential of Halloween for Chicago’s arts community, the question struck me like a thunderbolt." Within 24 hours he had prepared a vision statement proposing a Halloween parade celebrating Chicago’s cultural landscape and declaring Halloween as the artists' holiday. The rest of the plans came together just as quickly, with the Chicago Cultural Mile board endorsing Kelly's plan and Kelly and Shariatzadeh forging a partnership as co-founders of what began as "The Halloween Gathering" and shifted a few years later to the "Arts in the Dark" parade, produced by LUMA8, the company Shariatzadeh founded in 2017. Kelly is currently the Artistic Director and a Board Member of LUMA8.


This year the celebration takes place Saturday, October 21, from 6–8pm in the Loop. Attendees are urged to arrive early to find a good spectating spot and attend a pre-Parade candy giveaway starting at 5pm featuring HARIBO’s Goldenbear (that's a gummy bear) and more. Of course creative costumes are definitely encouraged; many attendees come dressed in their own colorful and creative costumes to join in the festive fun while watching the parade of participants celebrate Halloween as the “artists’ holiday”. Parade members include participants from major cultural organizations, inspiring youth programs, and aspiring artists in every field. Named ‘One of the best Halloween celebrations in the world’ by UK-based Wanderlust magazine – this dazzling production annually delights an audience of 50,000+ gathered along historic State Street, from Lake to Van Buren Streets.

This year’s parade holds a record number of applicants, with a selection of approximately 90 arts organizations participating. Families can expect to see well over 4,000 parade participants with virtually every neighborhood in Chicago represented. Colorful costumes, masks, installations, lighting, fire, acrobatics, puppetry and spectacle, dance moves and choreography, music, theatrical performances, street arts, circus arts, and cultural traditions will fill State Street.

A parade could take place any time of year and for a range of holidays, but the timing of late fall, and the choice of Halloween is key. Says Kelly, "This is a time which is embedded deeply within the history of human culture as we acknowledge that light is fading and darkness looms, a time when we don masks and costumes, wrestle with our mortality, engage the spirits, take on personas, and seek playful connection with each other. Halloween is the great American holiday with little of the weight which comes from our holidays framed with religious, nationalistic and family expectations."

As the parade nears a decade in existence, Kelly says he thinks that several key ideas are fundamental to its success. "Chicago is a world cultural capital," he explains, "but it lacks a special moment when it celebrates the breadth and depth of its cultural landscape. We encompass film, museums, schools, theater, music, dance, the visual arts, architecture, design, teaching artists, literature and so much more. We are a universe of creative practice invisible to ourselves and to the larger world. Arts in the Dark creates a celebratory moment in which we come together in playful solidarity and expand and excite our audience’s imagination about who we are and how important we are to the vitality of our city."

"With Mardi Gras and Carnivale as our North Star," he says, "we seek to build a mission driven and curated parade that brings artistry, creativity and performance to the street. There will be no waving politicians, traditional beauty queens, or sponsorship floats in our parade. Bringing together a mix of masks and costumes, light and fire, theater, music and dance, an array of puppets and spectacle, circus arts, and ethnic cultural traditions, we will create a sense of collective joy for our audience and our performers." 


Rogue Llama, 2022. Raf Winterpacht Photography



This year marks the parade’s inaugural bilingual emcee, Spanish-speaking WGN-TV journalist and co-anchor Lourdes Duarte, who will provide commentary on the parade from her staging between Monroe and Adams Streets.  This year’s parade will feature close to a dozen Mexican contingents, many of which choose to represent their cultural heritage by showcasing the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos. Noteworthy as well are the remarkable contributions of Chicago’s Black cultural organizations and traditions to the parade. A wide array of ethnic and cultural traditions will be represented as well, including Brazilian, Columbian, Irish, Indonesian, Peruvian, Caribbean, Jamaican, Polynesian, and Indigenous groups.

Chicago’s diverse dance community will be well represented with a selection of 40 dance organizations including Reinvent Ability dance group and their wheelchair dancers, The Joffrey Ballet, Forward Momentum Chicago, Ballet Folklorico de Chicago, Astronaut Flee, Trinity Dance School, Aztec Dance, and more. Dance genres will include footwork, tango, hip hop, house, stepping, clogging and ballet. And this year, audiences can expect a collection of 12 marching bands and drumlines and several music ensembles. Select music groups include everything from the South Side Jazz Coalition to the Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles. The parade showcases a variety of music genres including hip-hop, jazz, gospel, opera, Mariachi, house, pop, steel pan, rock, punk and more.

For Kelly this creative coming-together is an important work in progress. "While we speak proudly of Chicago’s cultural landscape, we also recognize that we are divided by race and class and further divided by genre, neighborhoods, the lack of resources, and the grind of our daily work. Arts in the Dark recognizes these fissures but also seeks a moment when we all come together to celebrate our collective ethos."


Ballet Folklorico Xochitl girls in a line, 2019. Distract Your Face Photography


LUMA8 President & CEO Sharene Shariatzadeh shared that her company will provide over $70K in grants to parade groups who might not otherwise be able to participate. “Our priority is to ensure that Arts in the Dark is a true reflection of Chicago’s diverse cultural and ethnic community,” she says. “Thanks to the support of our sponsors and a 2023 Chicago Presents Grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), we are able to offer the assistance that allows organizations from every corner of Chicago to celebrate together in the heart of the city.”

Arts in the Dark is presented by LUMA8 and the City of Chicago. And Halloween also wouldn't be halloween without candy. Apparently Chicago is known as the ‘Candy Capital of North America.' In recognition of this sweet title, the parade is co-sponsored by two giants of the candy industry: Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products, and HARIBO, the world's leading manufacturer of gummi products. The event also has Major Support from the Chicago Loop Alliance, is produced in partnership with DCASE and is a proud recipient of a 2023 Chicago Presents Grant. Additional support is provided by Choose Chicago, Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, and William Blair.


For more information visit www.artsinthedark.org




2022 Dancers