The St. Petersburg Quakers are pleased to announce the return of Circus McGurkis after a year’s absence. The 2017 organizers have refocused and revamped Circus McGurkis – The Next Generation to emphasize not-for-profit organizations working for peace and social justice in our communities. The event, which has a 45 year history, returns on Saturday, November 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the grounds of the event’s new host, Lakewood United Church of Christ located at 2601 54th Avenue South in St. Petersburg.
Circus McGurkis-The Next Generation is an alternative peoples’ fair focusing on peace and service to the community with a special focus on activities for children and families of all ages and types. It features arts, crafts, music, games and ideas which celebrate the creativity and activism that makes our community a more beautiful, loving and just place to live. Circus McGurkis is an expression of Quaker belief in the dignity and worth of each person and in the power of love and nonviolence to bring about change.
Circus McGurkis began in 1971 as a people’s fair for artists and progressive voices protesting the Vietnam War and nuclear power, championing the Women’s Movement and guarding the environment. Many of the original organizers were Quakers and the event came under the direction of the St. Petersburg Meeting who produced it for decades. Artists and organizations set up booths and tents to help educate those attending about their various missions. Over the years the festival became a homecoming for people involved in a wide range of social justice issues.
In recent years the event became very large with almost 200 booths and an estimated attendance at the last event in 2015 of over 5,000. The event outgrew the organizing ability of the small Quaker congregation in St. Petersburg and was becoming too commercial, losing its original focus on social justice activism. This year the Quakers have reached out to Lakewood United Church of Christ, an open and affirming congregation that shares many of the same values they do. Lakewood has a large parcel of wooded property on the south side of St. Petersburg and has become the host site for the event. Additionally, Circus is now being coordinated by a steering committee made up of diverse community activists from a variety of organizations including the Everyday Heroes Project and sustainability groups associated with Earth Day.
“Many people were dismayed when Circus McGurkis disappeared last year,” said Lynn Carol Henderson, the artist /storyteller coordinator and one of the early organizers of the event. “Over nearly five decades Circus became an integral part of the St. Pete community, and there are now people bringing their grandchildren to the event who attended when they were children.”
“We are reinventing how we produce Circus to bring the event back to its roots,” said Henderson. “We also want to make the fair more intimate and manageable. That is why we are working with organizers from all sectors of the community, refocusing on the community groups’ messages. We want more learning by doing so we are providing activities for families that foster a vision of a just and joyful world. And we are encouraging everyone to include interactive hands-on elements at their booths.
This year the structure of Circus McGurkis will be quite different from the past. There will be no fees for the not-for profit groups and the vendors who pair with them. Commercial vendors who offer locally produced, homemade or fair trade goods will partner with the not-for profits sharing an expanded space and supporting their cause with a percentage of their day’s revenue. The community groups will be encouraged to also sell products or services and to donate to the Circus table to help finance the Fair. Henderson said it was the “do well by doing good method.” “This way the volunteers of the not-for-profit groups and the vendor folks will support one another and everyone will have an opportunity to make new friendships. The money they make will be reinvested back into the community through the groups’ missions.
The new organizing committee is scaling back the event, anticipating 50-60 not-for-profit booths with paired vendors and less than 10 food offerings. Performances will include the perennial belly dancers and drummers, poets and storytellers. Attendance at Circus is still free and easy. Those interested in exhibiting either as a not-for –profit group or a vendor who wishes to be partnered, please send an e-mail with your name, phone, contact, e-mail and description to QuakerCircusMcGurkis@gmail.com
Henderson is hopeful that this will be the best Circus ever. “The whole purpose of Circus McGurkis is to create peaceful relationships among people. It is a place where people can come and at least for one day escape the realities of a harsh world and celebrate peace and social justice with other like-minded people. We put together a salad of joyful people who advocate for civil rights, animals, health care, mass transit and enlightenment; we mix them with solar cookies, music, and love for ourselves and our planet; then toss them with laughing picnickers and joyful participants. When you catch the Circus spirit everyone you meet is an interesting old friend or perhaps a new one from the next generation.”