by Sophie Bird, Guest Blogger

As a child attending the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival, I mostly noticed the colors. Lotus was like a kaleidoscope – lively and vibrant – from the bright outfits worn by international musicians to the purple, green, and blue stage lights that illuminated 6th Street after dark. Once a year, I sport hands dusty with pastel shades of chalk from the Arts Village and spirits high with the excitement of the weekend. I have gone to Lotus for my entire life.

Each fall during my childhood, as the colors of Lotus came to Bloomington, my mother became colorful with them. She often wore long floral skirts in bright pink, emerald green, or deep red as she led the way down crowded streets, the three of us children exploring in her wake. Frequently, she stopped to greet people she knew – a friend who directed a nonprofit, our favorite cashier at Bloomingfoods, the owner of a downtown boutique ­– and my siblings and I stood and took in the scenery while she had her conversations.

When we were small, we focused most of our energy on Lotus in the Park and various arts activities, I think because my mom didn’t trust us to behave in the musical venues. But oftentimes we stood in the streets or sat together on the courthouse lawn, listening to the music that was played inside.

In the early years, the festival was a family affair, but as we got a little older, we also brought along friends. As we sat in downtown churches or in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater waiting for a performance to start, Mom talked to us about how listening to world music could help us to understand different cultures. She stressed that diversity should be celebrated, and that’s what Lotus was – one huge celebration.

Eventually, I reached an age where my peers were attending the festival independently from their own parents. Slowly, the event transformed from an annual family outing to some of my first solo experiences with my friends. My mom was always close by – perhaps watching another group in a neighboring venue – but I had freedom to explore the festival at will. Some years, we stood nervously in the back of the big tent on 6th Street, watching glamorous college students and adults of all ages enjoy the music closer to the stage. Other times, we sat outside the courthouse, waving at people from school and furiously debating where to buy our dessert.

Lotus became such a tradition for me that it was difficult to understand that, for some people, it wasn’t a fact of life. During my first year as a journalism student at Indiana University, I realized that my peers from out of town would never have attended the festival. I arranged to go with a new friend, who I’d recently met as a resident of Collins Living Learning Center at IU.

I felt such a rush of pride, introducing her to something so uniquely Bloomington. We walked down Kirkwood and Walnut Streets and I stopped to greet people I knew – my coworker, my childhood friend’s father, a professor from school – and my friend was the one taking in Lotus’ beautiful colors while I had my conversations. When we returned to the dorm later that night, we told our friends who had stayed home what they had missed. The following year, a few of them went also.

At some point or another, I caught wind of the fact that my boyfriend, who has lived in Bloomington since the age of 8, had never gone to Lotus. Shocked, and mildly offended, I insisted we go that year. He is a great lover of music, and it is one of my favorite Lotus memories seeing his face light up in the balcony of the Buskirk-Chumley as he realized what the weekend had in store. On Saturday night, in the big tent on 6th Street, we stood close to the stage and greeted other IU students and friends.

Each year, Lotus has been a rite of passage for me. In my experience, Lotus and Bloomington are synonymous. The appreciation of art, the celebration of culture, and the acceptance of diversity are what make city and festival alike such wonderful places to be. The Lotus Festival is contagious in the same way as laughter – it has spread from person to person, family to family, my whole life.

As I enter into my junior year at IU, I’m thinking about the future. I’m wondering where my aspirations as a journalist will take me, and what sorts of places I might live in the coming years. Considering these things is bittersweet. A part of me will never want to leave Bloomington, or Lotus, or the wonderful people who have introduced me to an open-minded, loving way of living my life. But the possibilities of the future are exciting and invigorating, and Bloomington’s diversity of culture has inspired me to explore. No matter where I end up in the world, Bloomington will always be my home, and I think I’ll always make time to come home for Lotus.