Chicagoans have a lot to boast about. As the nation’s third-largest city, the midwestern metropolitan area offers a heap of first-rate attractions that’ll overwhelm anyone trying to assemble a day’s itinerary. With five successful franchises in four professional sports (the Bulls, Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks and Bears), you could easily catch a game and, coincidentally, the contagious Chicago “superfan” energy. “Da Bears!” Or shop for the most coveted designer threads along the world famous Magnificent Mile. And you’d certainly be remiss if you didn’t survey Chicago’s exceptional culinary scene and its many Michelin-starred restaurants. (NOTE: July is the perfect time to come to sample some of the city’s best and brightest in the culinary landscape at Taste of Chicago, touted as the world’s largest food festival). But what’s likely most unexpected for first-time visitors is the city’s incredibly diverse arts scene.
In some circles, Chicago is revered more for its mobster past than for its dynamic art community. But in fact, TripAdvisor awards the city for having the best museum in the world. And just this year, that museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, received 42 notable contemporary works, including nine Andy Warhol paintings, which it adds to its already superlative lineup of masterpieces from Van Gogh, Picasso, Grant Wood (American Gothic) and more (artic.edu).
Since the news hit, the city has been in collective elation over the procurements, including recently re-elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was quoted as saying the works “have not only ensured that people from around the world will visit Chicago for decades to come, but that the city will continue its rise in the ranks as one of the great global art destinations.” Additionally, the Art Institute is preparing an upcoming fall/winter exhibit to showcase the work of world-renowned, Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, the designer behind Smithsonian’s muchanticipated National Museum of African American History and Culture and the rumored architect for the Obama presidential library.
“…the city will continue its rise in the ranks as one of the great global art destinations”
–Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Most have heard of the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, Herbie Hancock, Nat King Cole, Minnie Riperton, Kanye West and Common. But what you may not know is that a number of prominent artists, including the aforementioned musicians, got their start in the Chi. Once you examine the city’s past and its role in the Great Migration, it’s no surprise the city became a nucleus for the musical arts. Chicago was a major transportation hub, accessed from both the Mississippi River and Great Lakes. Also, because it was one of the nation’s main railway centers, reports estimate nearly half a million African Americans from the South flocked to the northern then-industrial city for work and a better life from the 1910s to 1970s. According to Joy Bivins, curator of the Chicago History Museum, the migrants took with them their Southern music, which served as the source for the creation of Chicago blues and gospel.
The city has one of the most recognizable skylines in the world and, for a while, boasted one of the tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere. The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears tower) now takes second on the list, and Chicago’s Trump hotel trails just behind it. This October through January 2016, architects from all over the world will take in this magnificent skyline as the city hosts the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial, which is summarized as “North America’s largest international survey of contemporary architecture” (chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org). The city is also home to many designs from iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including the Robie House. Wright’s most famous commissioned work, the early-20th-century prairie-style home is open for public tours (flwright.org).
Visitors are also offered tours of the Chicago Theatre, another landmark and architectural gem (thechicagotheatre. com). Opened in 1921 as a state-of-theart movie palace, the theater has restored or recreated all the original Baroque details and impressive ornate touches and now operates as one of the nation’s most treasured concert and live performance venues.
Words: Nina Hemphill Reeder
Photo: Adam Alexander Photography
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