By Zach Terrillion
At the end of next month, a great tradition comes rolling around Tappan Square—the Big Parade. Last year’s featured waves of community organizations, performance groups, and regular townsfolk and students rode in food-themed floats and costumes. It was a moment of unity. A meeting between Oberlin the College and Oberlin the town in a way we don’t always see. It was a culmination of months of work by student and community organizers, who facilitated the construction of elaborate costumes, floats, puppets, and more. This year, the Big Parade plans to go even bigger.
The event was founded in 2001 by two community members, Donna Coleman and Claudio Orso, who remain involved with the Parade every spring. Coleman and Orso are local artists who lead workshops with residents to construct the event’s elaborate designs. The Parade started in the Oberlin community, only later merging with the college to become a student organization. This mixed origin connects to a broader mission to “...create a space for creative collaboration and celebratory spirit by bringing together Oberlin students and Oberlin community members.”
Seniors Mayu Evans, June Thoren, and Audrey Burkey inherited the club this year, thrown into the process as some of the first leaders post-COVID. They started planning right with the start of the Fall semester, taking inventory of supplies and laying out expectations for the future. A key focus was brainstorming for the year’s theme, with “under the sea” eventually being selected for 2023. According to Evans, “Most themes get picked on what would make a good main float.” This year’s trademark creation is a giant shipwreck. The Parade also tends to be a rain-or-shine event: “If it does end up raining, it will work with the theme.”
According to the club leaders, Big Parade depends primarily on the work of its community partners: “The parade just wouldn’t happen without them.” The group plans a workshop with local creators for each fall and spring semester. This semester will feature artist Sharon Henry, who specializes in multimedia and crochet. It is an opportunity for Oberlin artists to showcase their work and foster community connections. Town organizer Laura Dahle has been involved with the event since its 2001 start and often brings in community members who the leaders haven’t even spoken with. This long-standing work maintains the club’s institutional memory, even as student members depart every few years. To the three leaders, it shows the value of community members. “Students’ main interactions with the town have to do with coffee or food. The Parade is a chance to spotlight different members of the town,” Evans declares.
There is some nervous excitement heading into the Parade. It’s an intricate process that requires reserving Tappan Square, coordinating between community partners, and more. The leaders say they’ll likely be standing by until the day of the Parade. “It’s a bit of a fingers-crossed moment,” according to Evans. Still, the group remains confident about this edition. A particularly exciting addition this year is a live band set to perform during the post-fair activities. “I think it will make the celebration that much more festive,” Burkey says.
The club will also collaborate with local businesses like Watson’s Hardware and Black River Cafe (which plans to install a wine tent). Kendal will return with its annual “lawn chair brigade.” The organization will use supplies from Ginko’s, relying upon local art shops as much as possible. Some planned floats include a giant paper-mache crab designed by June and Mayu and a clamshell for a costumed mermaid to sit on. They also hope to collaborate with organizations like WOBC and O-Steel, emphasizing Oberlin’s distinct college-town synergy.
“Everyone is just excited for the chance to celebrate,” according to Thoren. Community members who have seen the Parade since the start of the century will be ready to come again—a true tradition. The organization feels very confident about its future: “There are so many people who are so passionate. The Parade’s definitely gonna continue.”
Starting after Spring Break, the club will begin hosting open build days at its build space near 247 W. Lorain Street. Any organization or club can come by and work on its very own aquatic-themed float. On April 13th at 6 PM, the club will hold an event at The Feve restaurant to commemorate the celebratory season. The big day will be on April 29th; the actual Parade will start at noon and go until 1 PM. A big celebration will kick off in Tappan from 1 to 4—there’ll be hot dogs, popcorn, and maybe even a cotton candy machine.