Allerton Barn

MONTICELLO — Allerton Park & Retreat Center has announced it will start the first folk school in Illinois, with its first session of educational experiences planned for this fall at the 1,500-acre University of Illinois-owned property southwest of Monticello.

Offerings at “The Farms: An Allerton Folk School” will focus on community — both in who takes courses as well as those who teach them.

Allerton Executive Director Derek Peterson said the effort will help coalesce many of the events that have been offered at the park in recent years, as well as expand on them.

“We’ve been steadily growing our user base over the past decade, becoming a true public resource for the surrounding area,” Peterson said.

“Now we are at a point where we can expand the population we serve, offering more consistent and diverse opportunities for learning and invaluable personal interaction, building a sense of community for all who choose to participate.”

Crafts and skills to be taught will range from pottery and painting to folk dancing and photography and more, all based on a movement that began in Denmark in the mid-1800s. Philosopher, educator and social critic Nikolai Frederik Severin Grudtvig — credited as one of the inspirations behind folk schools — desired educational atmospheres that would be more amenable to the rural population.

Folk schools are seeing a rise in popularity these days, partly because they offer a more informal kind of learning, one that is often hands-on and focuses on culturally diverse skills and crafts to promote personal growth. Allerton plans to follow that model.

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Allerton Senior Program Coordinator Olivia Bunting said the idea is to “create community through experiential learning, storytelling and accessible creative expressions” to establish a setting where “anyone can learn a new skill or craft from other people in their community.”

Bunting said the idea is to build a flexible space — multi-generational in nature — where people can learn in an alternative setting to a traditional classroom.

“These educational experiences can come in the form of multi-day events, one-day workshops, or a gathering of folks who just want to share a common interest like jam sessions, open mic nights or a crafting night to work on personal projects and build connections,” Bunting said.

The name — and logo — of Allerton’s effort is a throwback to a time when Robert Allerton created the park grounds that include a 1900-era Georgian manor house, forest and formal gardens full of artwork. He used it as a base to manage surrounding farmland that his father, Samuel, had acquired beginning in the mid-1800s.

Robert called his entire estate “The Farms,” and John Gregg Allerton designed the logo that the folk school will resurrect for modern use.

What’s next?

Allerton staff are asking the public for help as they consider what events to offer. An online survey is available at