Just like the Culture section itself, BEST Cutlure is sort of an electic amalgam of offerings. We’ve tried to highlight some of the best elements of life in C-U over the past year from the broad to the specific, from the serious to the strange. It’s an annual reminder of what makes our little community a pretty great place to live.
– Julie McClure, Culture Editor
BEST community involvement: Uniting Pride
Uniting Pride has been putting in the work this year. We are all aware of their presence during Pride Fest each fall, but they spend all year investing in the lives of LGBTQ+ people in C-U and beyond. This shows up in the form of events, like additional Pride programming throughout June, but it’s also included assistance with gender affirming care through their free binder and waist cincher program, showing up at school board and library meetings in Mahomet, Tolono, and Gifford to let LGBTQ+ students know that people out there love and support them, and educating members of a church in Tuscola despite protesting voices. When I spoke to Director of Operations Nicole Frydman in September, they shared about the organization’s growth plan, and the reasoning behind it. “We know that people are pretty desperate for safe and affirming spaces, where they feel free to be entirely who they are, but the threat of violence, the online attacks and the in personal attacks are increasing. We need this as an LGBTQ+ community, so we’re finding a way to make more things happen. In addition to direct service like support groups or free pantry or all that other stuff, it’s creating a community.”
BEST goodest squirrel: Pinto Bean, RIP
The short life of Pinto Bean, the rare spotted squirrel that gained a following of fans on UIUC Reddit, came to an end a few months ago on Springfield Avenue. Since then, he’s become a legend. He’s currently being preserved by a taxidermist in Bloomington-Normal, and after an appearance on the big screen at Memorial Stadium he got a mention on SB Nation. RIP Pinto Bean. You brought joy to all who encountered you.
BEST football season in a really, really, really long time: Illinois Football
Illini fans have become accustomed to muddling our way through football season with an eye on November and the start of basketball season. This year was different. While the latter portion of the season came with some disappointing losses, an 8-4 record and a bowl game bid feels pretty great. Memorial Stadium was more packed than it had been in a long time, and this town had some great football energy over the past few months.
BEST latrine glow-up: Original House of Pancakes
If you aren’t a regular reader of Tom Ackerman’s A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine column, shame on you. It’s one of the best things you’ll read on SP. This year, the most impressive latrine can be found in the restrooms at Original House of Pancakes. Important features: automatic lid, self-sanitizing and heated seat, “rear” wash, and a remote control. Next time you’re out getting your pancake fix, be sure to check it out.
BEST viral TikTok: Dad’s first day on the job
If you need your heart warmed in these cold, dark days, take a look at this TikTok created by Kayla Campbell, a Centennial grad who has also done some photography work around town. Her dad was starting a new job after 30 years, and she decided to document it. The video ended up generating millions of views. There are several follow up videos now if you need more Kayla’s dad content.
BEST cultural exhibit: Sewn in Memory
Sewn in Memory: AIDS Quilt Panel from Central Illinois was a poignant temporary exhibit at Spurlock Museum this year. It featured quilt panels lovingly created here in Central Illinois in honor of area residents who died at the height of the AIDS crisis in the eighties and nineties. Each unique panel told a story, and really brought this huge national and international crisis to a very personal and local level. The Greater Community AIDS Project, whose members created many of the panels in the midst of their AIDS advocacy work in C-U, is still educating our community and advocating for those who are HIV+.
BEST show revival: Nerdlesque by Carnivale Debauche
C-U’s very own burlesque troupe, Carnival Debauche, brought the second installment of Nerdlesque to the Seven Saints beer garden this summer, and it was a moment of escapism in the midst of all the mess in the world. Our SP review of the show describes it as witnessing “the real Champaign-Urbana, the one that’s not so visible at the bars and restaurants, the one that’s hidden from view at grocery stores and shopping centers, the one that only comes out on full moon nights. CD has been performing on C-U stages for more that a decade, and they first presented Nerdlesque in 2019 — with each entertainer indulging their nerdiest selves through “strange and sexy” performances. Part two brought scenes from The Mandolorian, Lara Croft, Event Horizon, and even Moira Rose in The Crows Have Eyes to an adoring and vocal crowd. If you haven’t experienced Carnivale Debauche, do keep your eyes peeled for their next performance announcement.
BEST dog: Trumpet
Trumpet is a bloodhound from St. Joe who won the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show back in June. He is a very good boy.
BEST export (reprise): Janelle James
We’ve been watching Janelle James’ star rise for a while now, having named her Best Export for the first time in 2018. At the time, the one-time Champaign-Urbana resident was making a name for herself as a standup comedian and comedy writer. Fast forward four years, and she is now an Emmy-nominated actress in one of the best new shows of the year (in my humble opinion) Abbott Elementary. We tip our hats to you, Ms. James.
BEST repurposing: The Dallas and Co dinosaur
When Dallas and Company closed in 2020, it was inevitable that the various creatures adorning the building would eventually go away as well. Perhaps the most iconic of those creatures was the t-rex busting out of the back of the building. We were relieved to find out that the dinosaur has a new local home — the Dinosores Motorcycle Club on Country Fair in Champaign. No word on what has become of the giant skull or any of the other characters.
BEST celebrity encounter: Beard Culture and Earth, Wind, and Fire
Beard Culture in Lincoln Square Mall has only been open for about a year and a half, but they’ve already served some A-list clientele. Back in May, when legendary group Earth, Wind, and Fire came to town, Ausharra Knox and his son Ausharra Knox II gave group members Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson a trim before their performance at the State Farm Center. Pretty epic.
BEST new event series: Shinrin Onyoku
Many pre-pandemic events have returned over the last year, but one of my favorites, Matsuri, has not. However, in its place, Japan House has gotten creative with staging several smaller events that pull in similar elements of food, music, and the experience of wandering the Japan House grounds. Shinrin Onyoku, or “forest bathing” was introduced this year on the third Sunday of each month from March through September. Each month featured tasty treats from Matcha Cafe, including Kakagori, a delicious Japanese shaved ice dessert. The events featured musical acts from a DJ spinning Japanese pop from the 70s to Afro Brazilian drumming to classical and jazz to “treat” your ears while soaking in the natural beauty of your environment. While I’m crossing my fingers for a Matsuri return, I hope this series is here to stay.
BEST response to a terrible situation: Planned Parenthood resuming surgical abortions
In terms of abortion access, Illinois is a relatively good place to be right now. However, as we wrote last year even before Roe v. Wade was struck down, abortion access locally was not as widely available as you might expect. At the time, our local Planned Parenthood could only provide a medical abortion. Surgical abortions have not been available in our area since Women’s Health Practice closed following a bombing attempt. After the disastrous Dobbs decision, Planned Parenthood’s Champaign Health Center expanded their staff and upgraded their facilities to be able to perform surgical abortions through 22 weeks. Illinois is poised to be a safe haven for abortions given our geographical positioning in the middle of so many states with restrictive abortion policies.
Julie McClure wrote these entries, with collaboration from Smile Politely Editors.