Our CULTURE section is infamously (and sometimes affectionately) known as the "grab bag" of Smile Politely. You could define what we do here as "not ARTS, not FOOD + DRINK, not MUSIC, not OPINION, and not TECH."

You might ask, "What's left?" To which I would answer, "All the good stuff."

In all seriousness, we love what we do here in CULTURE, and this year we've decided to embrace our grab-bag, random, and sometimes downright weird nature by highlighting the very BEST of our eclecticism.

From public spaces, to new businesses, to public entities of all kinds, we think C-U has the mightiest, loveliest, and rarest form of culture there is: the kind that's created by people who care about each other and where they live. That's pretty damn great, and we're here to celebrate it.

— Rebecah Pulsifer


BEST new piece of public landscaping

Boneyard Creek near Silvercreek

The Boneyard Creek has been getting a facelift for the past few years, and the portion near Silvercreek restaraunt is one of the latest and greatest. The area now has a windy paved path running along the creek that's lined with lovely green foliage and bits of flowers speckled throughout. It's truly a beautiful walkway and our vote for the best piece of public landscaping this year. Check out Urbana's master plan for the creek. (SL)

BEST park upgrade

Meadowbrook Park

Meadowbrook is a C-U park classic and the Urbana Park District is continuing to improve the grounds. This year, they are working to open up the he Hickman Wildflower Walk, the area between the farmstead and the Wandell Sculpture Garden. For the past 20 years the area has been plagued by invasive trees and shrubs, but the park district is taking care of that by clearing out the zone and allowing for the wildflowers to make a come back. The image seen here, provided by UPD, is just an example of the types of wildflowers they expect to cultivate. See more at the UPD website. (SL)

BEST radio innovation

The 21st

Illinois Public Media recently added The 21st to its set list, and it definitely deserves a BEST for this year. Niala Boodhoo hosts the show and describes the concept of the show as "a space where people from Illinois can gather both virtually and physically to share stories." Some of the topics Boodhoo has covered recently are summer gardening, books for kids, the portraits project, the future of coal in Illinois, the Orlando tragedy, and fertilizer testing. Catch the show on the airwaves or online. (SL)

BEST new style spot


Psst. Have you heard the rumor? Or rather, about Rumours Hat Shoppe? This sweet little store is situated just off of downtown at the corner of First and Chester streets. Rumours is a hat shop that makes you feel classy and sassy when you walk in. There are dozens of dope hats to choose from, and prices range from under $50 to around $150. The hats are high quality and sure to put some fleek on that noggin of yours. Check them on Facebook. (SL)

BEST niche business 

Old Delhi Inc.

Old Delhi, Inc. is one of the best niche repair shops that this town has ever seen. This guy receives shipments of harmoniums from all over the world, fixes them, and ships them back internationally, and he is one of a handful of people in the United States qualified to do so. Check out his site and services. And for all you curious Georges out there, here is a video of a harmonium. (SL) Photo courtesy of the Daily Illini.

BEST obscure sport


First, what is Belegarth? Essentially it is an in-person medieval war game that is gaining traction in the C-U area. Participants dress as medieval warriors and battle it out using foam swords and other such weapons. The Numenor Foam Fighting RSO on campus coordinates all things belegarth. To learn more, check out our article or visit the group's Facebook page. (SL)

BEST take on an architectural trend

Tom Ackerman on Fugly Grey Rectangles 

Any regular reader of CULTURE knows that columnist Tom Ackerman slays the game on a regular basis. Recently, he took local developers to task for their love of a terrible architectural trend: the fugy grey rectangle, which, as many of us know all too well, is invading campustown and the surrounding area. Putting the spotlight on weird things and approaching them in an irreverant manner, as Tom does in this article, sums up the best of what CULTURE has to offer, in our view. Read the full story here. (RP)

BEST new community festival

Sonified Sustainability

The first Sonifed Sustanability Festival took place in mid-April on and around the U of I campus. The festival attempted to showcase the relationship between sustainability and the arts, and it hosted quite a few big names. The combination of eclectic artistic expression, sustainability, and some big names in the art world made this the best new community festival of the year. Check out images, video, and links in our article. (SL)



BEST campus media

Asian Campus Tribune

The Asian Campus Tribune is a powerhouse of a publication. First, it is printed in two languages within the same edition (Korean and English); second, it is full of content ranging from opinions to world news to tips on health and wellness; and finally, the drive that this group has is incredible. Their current mission is to “become the leading voice of the Asian campus communities around the nation.” That is incredibly ambitious. All of these elements make it a BEST, imho. Pick one up today. Read more about the publication in our article or check them out on the web (SL)

BEST new alternative medicine 

Phoenix Botanical

Phoenix Botanical, the infamous new source for medical cannabis in C-U, quietly opened in April of 2016. Those who are aware of Illinois's stringent laws on medical cannabis know that we're lucky to have this resource in our community. Check out our podcast interview with Phoenix Botanical's general manager Dan Linn, who is also the Executive Director of Illinois NORML. (RP)

BEST negotiation win

NTFC Local #6546

This past year has been a big one for newsworthy stories on labor and higher education in Illinois. The happiest of these, in our view, concerns the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition Local #6546's contract win. After nearly two years of negotiations, NTFC Local #6546 won a contract with the UIUC administration that protects workers and guarantees some stability for long-serving instructors at the U of I. Read more about the win here, and check out NTFC Local 6546's Facebook page here. (RP)

BEST anger outlet


CLAW allows us to live vicariously through larger-than-life wrestling personas. They've offered a number of amazing shows in the past year, which give us the chance to watch them pummel each other to the point of exhaustion in costume to punk rock playing in the background. Thank you, CLAW, for getting out your aggression so we don't have to. See more about CLAW, including photos and a schedule of matches, by visitig their website or checking out one of our articles. (SL)

BEST venue reboot

Homer Opera House

A community gem in Homer, Illinois reopened this past September, when theater guru Bob Picklesimer put his plans for a renewed venue into action. Read more about the history of this fascinating building in our interview with Picklesimer and take a virtual tour by checking out Sam's photos here. The Homer Opera House is now fully up and running, so stop by and try to catch a show this summer. You can find information about their upcoming performances on their website. (RP)

BEST new trend

Escape rooms

A year ago, I had no idea what an escape room was. This year, I had the chance to interview two new escape room locations, C-U Adventures in Time and Space and Way Out Escape Rooms. A third escape room location, Brainstorm Escape, has also gotten great reviews. The explosion of new escape room venues, coupled with people's excitement about this passtime, has us thinking that this is 2015-2016's best new trend. (RP)

BEST organizational facelift

The Champaign County Historical Museum

When we talked to board members of the Champaign County Historical Museum on SP Radio last August, we (and they) were worried that this community treasure was headed down the tubes. Since then, the Museum has seen incredible support from members of the community who are interested in keeping us connected to our local past. Check out their Facebook page for recent happenings and opportunities to get involved in their good work. (RP)

BEST alternative pre-school

Carle Auditory Oral School

Ever since our son was born, I've been sort of trying my best to not become the overbearing parent that is way too concerned about my child's education. It's not working very well. But I am in check, I think. We send our kid to Early Learning, which frankly, is awesome, because it's sort of stuck in time, and the teachers there are super nice and attentive. But through some friends, I've come to learn about the Carle Auditory Oral School. And while I've never sent my son there, a glance at their website, and their programming is sort of mind-bending. 5:1 ratio of kids to teachers who have their Master's. A good mix of kids with hearing loss and with normal hearing. Plus, Chambanamoms.com founder and Editor-in-Chief (sorry, Mom-in-Chief) gives it this ringing endorsement:

"While there are many excellent preschools throughout Champaign-Urbana, the small class sizes and family atmosphere has made Carle Auditory Oral School the preschool of choice for my family. They make miracles everyday with children who have hearing deficits, as well as providing an incredible education for all children. As a wise friend once told me, all children have special needs, and that is certainly the case at CAOS - where children of many needs learn side by side.  It is a treasure in our community."

That, right there, is enough for me to give it the ol' BEST stamp for this year. Super impressive. (SF)

BEST GIF that is relevant again

Bruce Weber Jarling's-to-the-face GIF

Sadly I can't take credit for this amazingness of a GIF of Bruce Weber getting a cone to the face, but earlier this year after Jarling's was purchased by a group of owners — Weber being one of them in the group — it all suddenly came back around. After Weber's not so great exit from the U of I program, the GIF was fitting, especially when K State got ousted in the tourney a few years back. Upset badly, if you recall. I do. It was terrific. Regardless, when we heard about the acquisition and transaction of Jarling's to this group, everything once again was right in the world. Thus, a peak moment of being able to utilize this amazing GIF again. A revival, if you will. It is absolutely hypnotizing. (PS)

BEST viral photo

The levitating Central Maroon

Liz Bruson captured this awesome photo that definitely had a run across the interweb after it came out. Levitating kid Walker Stillman! In a way, it rivals what was one of the funniest viral stories of last year — those shirts by that adorable old couple. There are a few things that go viral from C-U each year, but this one has to take the cake circulation-wise. Look at 'em! White people can jump after all... at least this kid can. I sure as hell can't, still. Nice ups, Stillman. Keep it up. (PS)



This article's contributors were Sam Logan, Seth Fein, Rebecah Pulsifer, and Patrick Singer.