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Passion for Circus

 Announcing The Aerial Renaissance Project

Aerial Renaissance Project

“With the possible exception of Sarasota, Florida, Bloomington has contributed as much to the glamour of circuses as any other town in the world.” – Robert Lewis Taylor, Center Ring

A Little History

The Circus and Allied Arts Collection was founded in 1955 to document the important relationship that existed between the twin cities of Bloomington-Normal and circus acts, particularly aerial acts, throughout modern history.  As far back as the 1870s, this community was home to hundreds of aerialists who soared their way to circus stardom, The Flying La Vans, The Flying Wards, and The Flying Concellos, to name just an illustrious few.

Incredibly an industry emerged in Bloomington, an industry fueled by sweat, talent and daring, a circus industry that created professional flyers who were ready, willing and able to ship off and dazzle crowds across the country and around the world.

Normal, home to Milner Library is also home to the oldest collegiate circus in the United States, Illinois State University's Gamma Phi Circus, which has thrilled crowds for over 80 years.

Hundreds of aerialists, a circus that has performed since the Great Depression, and one of the greatest circus libraries anywhere - the impact of Bloomington on the circus world is as wonderful as it is indisputable.

The Circus Anew:

Today the world is in the middle of an absolute renaissance of Aerial Arts. We are living through an unprecedented moment where performers are experimenting, re-imagining and reshaping the traditions of circus in a way that is transforming the art forever.

We at Milner see this as living history – an important moment. True to our mission of promoting, protecting, and providing access to materials for artists and scholars of the circus arts, Milner Library’s Special Collections is pleased to announce the Aerial Renaissance Project.

The Aerial Renaissance Project

This exciting new project of Milner will collect and compile the vision and experiences of pioneering aerial artists whose work off-the-ground is breaking new ground; in doing so the library will add to the trans-continental conversation that is making circus new. 

 Co-founder of the Aerial Renaissance Project, and once-Ringmaster Chris Wangro announced: “Our goal is to do something important and I think incredibly timely – There’s been an explosion of creativity that is absolutely re-inventing circus, and a new generation of artists so full of innovative, imaginative & ingenious ideas that they are remaking what circus can be. We aim to collect the personal stories, words, notes, and images of the performers at the core of the turning point - today’s aerialists. Their first-hand stories reveal the heart and soul of this adventurous artistic explosion like nothing else. And best of all - these documents will reside in the Circus & Allied Arts Collection, where they will be used and treasured for generations to come.”

Special Collections Librarian Maureen Brunsdale says it best:  “We would be honored to learn from today’s artists; we need to know what got them interested in their art, when they started, what their thoughts are while preparing and performing a work, how they train, teach and dream. Collecting this sort of information – the day-to-day chronicling of artistic passion – informs researchers and practitioners like nothing else!”

The documents housed in the library from performers past are those that are treasured most.  The creation of a living archive of today’s provocative practitioners of the Aerial Arts will add a new dimension to our collection and be nothing short of extraordinary.

For more information contact:
Maureen Brunsdale
phone: 309-438-2871

Photo credits

Unknown Flyer (circa 1870): Left image
Photographer: Unknown

Zaccho Youth Company(2012): Right image
Photographer: Laurie Wigham


Take a moment... take a few hours or even a few days to make your way through our vast (and always growing) online exhibit of Sverre O. Braathen's Kodachromes and black and white photographs from a number of fantastic circuses documenting the 1930s to the 1960s: A Passion for Circus Digital Collection.

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Milner Library
Campus Box 8900
201 North School St.
Normal, Il 61790-8900
Phone: 309.438.3451

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Last Updated: 1/26/17