From the bottom of the sea to the tops of the stars, Chicago culture has it all on display. The Downtown Museum Campus is home to three great attractions: the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. For art lovers, the Art Institute of Chicago offers masterpieces from ancient to ultra-modern, and the various other cultural institutions showcase some of the greatest design, architecture and concepts-to-be realized.
Most people will agree that art, design and architecture all go hand-in-hand, and if you want to really delve into the history and present of Chicago’s art scene, then make time to experience the Art Institute of Chicago. Their mission statement says it all. The institute “collects, preserves, and interprets works of art of the highest quality, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions.”
Founded in 1879 as a museum and school, the Art Institute has always maintained a vision to acquire and exhibit a huge diversity of art, while also offering in-depth educational programs across a broad spectrum. It’s a huge credit to those who run the Institute that they now showcase more than 5,000 years of human expression from cultures around the world. And there is a new wing (that took 10 years to build and opened in 2009) that was designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano, making it the largest art museum in the U.S. Called the Modern Wing, the 264,000-square-foot building is home to the museum’s 20th- and 21st-century art, including awe-inspiring collections of European painting and sculpture, contemporary art, architecture and design and photography.
The amazing list of institutes in this city goes on. You could spend a month in Chicago and not see all that it has to offer those hungry for design inspiration. The city’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is another must-see. One of the nation’s largest facilities devoted to modern art, with exhibitions created since 1945, it is the type of place you’ll want to visit if you need to shake up your thoughts and get a fresh, inspiring perspective. Get lost among contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, film and performance. The MCA also has a gift and bookstore brimming with design, a 300-seat theater and a terraced sculpture garden with stunning views across Lake Michigan.
Columbia College Chicago is another institution that is making a mark in the U.S. when it comes to design, fashion and cinematography. Students are assured of real industry experience while immersing themselves in onsite film and video production and post-production equipment, photography, animation, graphic design and computer labs, dance studios, concert halls, theater stages, a radio station, recording facilities, art studios, performance spaces, design studios, film and television studios and galleries. It’s a buzzing hub of creative energy and the surrounds – Columbia Arts District – is home to seven galleries plus performance spaces and venues, a museum of contemporary photography and another that showcases fashion over the eras. The breadth of talent and things to see in this area will blow your mind away, and ensure that your finger is on the pulse when it comes to all things new and exciting on the design front.
When night falls and you think you can’t fit another good dose of design into your schedule, think again. In fact, think creative-theater set design and amazing costume design, paired with wonderful stories, raw and veteran talent. The Looking Glass Theater Company at the Water Tower in downtown Chicago opened in 2003, kicking off a new era of theater in Chicago. There is always something interesting being staged here, and as the theater seats only 270, it’s always an intimate experience where you really feel a part of the action.
Or, if you want to head somewhere where the locals go to groove away to underground Chicago blues and beats, then get yourself to Kingston Mines. It’s a little out of the city center, but worth its weight in gold. You get the real-deal blues, and it’s packed with people from all walks of life. There is no pretension here – it’s all about dancing the night away!
And if you are going to get into some local Chicago culture, then the experience has to include dining. Step into some of the outer suburbs of Chicago and some cool, tasty treats await, especially if you follow chef Paul Kahan’s restaurant trail. If you don’t know Kahan, get to know him – he grew up in his parents’ Chicago delicatessen and steakhouse, and he knows what it takes to establish a happening place where the atmosphere is as paramount as the food. Check out Big Star – a taco and tequila bar, or if you’re after some fine cheese and beer, wine offerings in a place that has a warehouse vibe, head on down to his The Publican – a restaurant and bar that many locals from the Windy City call their second home.
Food, drinks and music aside, to get a really good idea of how Chicago came to be such a culturally inspiring city, jump aboard an architectural tour on a boat. You’ll not only be amazed by some of the work from the world’s best architects, you’ll also learn a lot about Chicago’s legendary characters and some of the must-see attractions that will put you back on the beaten track.
For more information about Chicago culture, the different design destinations, tours and dining/shopping options, visit www.choosechicago.com.
Also, be inspired by beautiful Chicago videos by Choose Chicago:
Chicago Theater and Performing Arts
Art Institution of Chicago: www.artic.edu/aic
Museum of Contemporary Art: http://mcachicago.org
Columbia College Chicago: www.colum.edu
Looking Glass Theater Company: http://lookingglasstheatre.org
Kingston Mines: www.kingstonmines.com
Big Star: http://bigstarchicago.com
The Publican: http://thepublicanrestaurant.com