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Prom photos, weddings and Shakespeare make for busy days at Ewing Cultural Center

Spring flowers bloom at Ewing
Toni Tucker
Spring is in full bloom at Ewing Cultural Center in Bloomington.

The director of Ewing Cultural Center has some advice if you’re planning to visit the historic property in Bloomington to take prom photos this spring.

The first tip: Call ahead to make sure it’s open for you.

That’s because Ewing often hosts events such as weddings on the weekend, meaning there may not be room for a few hundred (or more) high schoolers and their camera-wielding parents to stop by before prom. This year, Ewing is open for Bloomington High School’s prom on May 13. But it’s not available this Saturday (April 29), when nine proms are happening across McLean County.

“We will not be able to accommodate that for those students. But there are so many other beautiful places in the community – the Ewing Parks, McGraw Park, other places students can go to take their outdoor photos,” said Toni Tucker, director of Ewing Cultural Center. (They give schools a heads-up about which Saturdays are open or closed.)

That said, Ewing loves visitors.

“In the 11 years I’ve been working at Ewing with prom students, I don’t believe we’ve had one incident where someone has run through a garden or been disrespectful. They seem to be very respectful of the property, the gardens,” Tucker said.

And this is indeed the busy season. Ewing will host 12 weddings this year.

“We have a variety of couples. Some, they’re looking for that princess bride experience, when you’re at a castle. For others, it’s the outdoor venue and the beautiful gardens, so guests at their reception can also – unlike a conference room where you’re sort of sequestered there – go out and walk the gardens,” Tucker said, adding that Ewing can accommodate food trucks. “It can be very casual to very formal, depending on the taste of the couple.”

But there are no weddings between the last Friday in June until the second Saturday in August.

That’s because Ewing is also home to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, which performs at the outdoor Theatre at Ewing on the property.

There are still ways to visit throughout the summer. Ewing offers free public tours from May 1 through the end of September, on Monday nights from 4-6 p.m. You don’t need a reservation, although the last docent-led tour leaves at 5:15 p.m. each evening.

That’ll give you a chance to see the revamped Ewing gardens.

“The gardens are just beautiful this time of year, with the tulips and the daffodils,” Tucker said. “And we’ve reimagined the gardens to be more native plants, more perennials, and removing a lot of the annuals. But we’ve added a lot of new pots to the property, and one of them is the Jens Jensen Urn, designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen, who was the landscape architect for the property there in 1928.”

The Ewing Cultural Center is owned and supported by the Illinois State University Foundation, which provides capital funding for major improvements. Day-to-day operations are supported by revenue from events and from donations. ISU itself provides some support through Grounds staff.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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