As director of events at Northalsted Business Alliance, Dustin Erikstrup helps organize huge celebrations like the annual Chicago Pride Fest.
Halsted Street runs through the heart of Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood—the first officially recognized gay village in the USA and the current cultural hub of the city’s LGBT community. Dustin Erikstrup ’07 works as director of events at the Northalsted Business Alliance, which serves as the chamber of commerce for the neighborhood by organizing the area’s thriving businesses, keeping the streets clean and safe, and putting on vibrant celebrations like Northalsted Market Days and the Chicago Pride Fest. Erikstrup talked with us about his work, his time studying Fashion Business at Columbia College Chicago and what the Boystown community means to him.
What are your specific responsibilities at Northalsted Business Alliance?
I oversee the events and street festivals. Director of events oversees everything from talent to sponsorships to non-profit partnerships to overall general fundraising capacity. We recently signed a collaboration with The Legacy Project, the nation’s first LGBT outdoor museum, which is on North Halsted [Street]. I will be working with them to do some general fundraising and development work, expanding programming and educational initiatives to make sure [The Legacy Project] continues to be a driver for people to visit North Halsted.
How did Columbia prepare you for your career?
[Networking] was really pressed at Columbia—thinking creatively about who you know and what they do. Looking back at it, one of the things that was really instilled was knowing the power and value of your network, and building that out in both professional and social capacities at the same time. The work that I do now is both social and professional, and being mindful of who I am at all times is something that Columbia really prepared me for. Your network is your foundation for success.
Did you have specific professors you really connected with?
One of the professors I absolutely adored was [Fashion Studies faculty member] Jerry Svec. He really challenged everybody to be creative and innovative. He didn’t hold back in critiques and he was really honest. He was sort of like, “Nope, this is real world training and that’s why you chose this school.” It really empowered me to be the best that I could be.
What’s the best part of your job?
I've been with the Business Alliance for almost a year and a half, and seeing the way that the festivals have grown, seeing people react to the outcomes of the work that we're doing, is incredible. Seeing smiles on people’s faces when they come to us, having our business owners be thankful for the work that we’re doing—that’s the goal.
Also, just on Friday, 40 kids came in from Lyons High School with the Legacy Project and did a walking tour of the Legacy Walk. So I saw 40 smiling faces from the Gay Straight Alliance at Lyons High School. That, to me, was one of the most rewarding parts of the work that we do.
The first ever Pride Prom recently happened on May 21, supporting The Legacy Project. What inspired that event?
Pride Prom was an idea I had before the Northalsted Business Alliance began our collaboration with The Legacy Project. When I was working with Center on Halsted, I would hear stories from seniors about what it was like growing up closeted before my time. I thought a classic American event like prom would be a mutual ground for people of any age to stand on. The Legacy Project focuses on historical LGBTQ figures and events, so the [theme] "A chance to rewrite history" felt natural.
We saw such a variety of dress: people challenging gender stereotypes and having fun with attire. We crowned two couples as "Prom Royalty.” The other highlight was when we had slow dances. Seeing more than 75 couples take the dance floor was very sweet and touching.
What does the Boystown community mean to you?
When it comes to the LGBT community, we need to remember that we are a community. We all have a foundation of something that we had to overcome, and so the community—North Halsted in general—needs to remain the “Gayborhood.” It needs to remain a beacon. We live in the city, so we take advantage of the fact that we can walk down the street and hold hands, we can express our gender identity, and we can be who we want to be. But 75 miles outside the city, 40 miles outside the city, that’s not the case. Remaining inclusive and accepting of everybody is really important to me. Really, that’s the message that Northalsted tries to tell: that we remain open and inclusive to all walks of life, and that the community remains unified in who we are and what we have overcome.