If you’ve noticed the creativity that pulses through the streets of Chicago, you’re not alone. In fact, it was recently named one of the 25 most creative cities in the U.S. — a not-so-surprising title to those living in the artsy metropolis. Because of its comparatively cheap rents and abundant factories and warehouses, studios and makerspaces have popped up across the city’s many neighborhoods, while its relatively lower cost of living has freed up funding for an increase in artistic pursuits. As a result, Chicago’s art community is unlike any other.
As Chuck Thurrow, the former chairman of the board of the Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Center, says: “When you’re in this city, you can be experimental. No one is looking over anyone’s shoulders.”
With this in mind, we give you the best of Chicago’s creative offerings.
If you’re headed to Chicago but can’t exactly clock out, take advantage of the many coworking spaces scattered across the city.
BLUE1647: This entrepreneurship and tech innovation center is a space where ideas meet execution. Through classes, workshops, and events centered on technology, BLUE1647 provides resources and a creative and collaborative environment that enables individuals to realize that their ideas have the ability to impact the world in a positive way. The space’s website describes its community as “a vibrant example of the ways in which creative professionals, entrepreneurs, change-makers, and nonprofits can come together to make a meaningful, lasting impact.” To inquire about pricing packages, click here.
The Shift: Welcoming everyone from techies and creatives to attorneys and accountants, the Shift is a community-based coworking company with locations Uptown and in Logan Square. With a full calendar of small business classes, creative workshops, networking events, and biweekly show-and-tells that run alongside their standard coworking offerings, this freelance haven is ideal for those wanting to work creatively while connecting with like-minded individuals outside of the chaos that is downtown Chicago. If you’re looking for a relaxed, coffee-shop-like space with a few more resources, check out their membership options here, and get shift done. (Sorry, I had to.)
Creative Coworking: With locations in both Evanston and Edgewater, Creative Coworking is a members-only workspace for creative professionals, graduate students, and entrepreneurs that also doubles as an art gallery. Known for its homey atmosphere, the eclectic space spreads its meeting rooms and desks across multiple floors (including a rooftop level) and comes complete with dedicated quiet and collaboration zones. Additionally, members are given electronic key fobs so they can access the space 24/7. And, to top it all off, they host a monthly calendar of events, such as their legendary Art and Wine Night. Monthly passes start at $50 and increase from there.
Level Office: In addition to various locations across the States, Level has four different spaces in Chicago (West Loop, River North, the Loop, and Wacker). And since most memberships come with access to any location, you can pull up to a desk in any major city across the country. The stylish, amenity-rich spaces are stocked with snacks, fancy coffee, beer (on tap!), and printing services. With a whole slew of membership options, Level offers budget-friendly desk spaces as well as pricier (and fancier) packages.
Brooklyn Boulders: Although this one isn’t a traditional coworking space, the West Loop climbing facility welcomes remote workers into its 25,000 square feet of space every day. The freelance-friendly area has free WiFi and overlooks the climbing wall — a welcome distraction if procrastination is part of your process. That said, it’s still a gym, so don’t expect it to be library-esque. Their monthly memberships give visitors access to classes, equipment, and events, as well as the coworking space. So why not meet fellow climbers while you work?
Chicago is home to its share of fairs, lectures, and festivals. Here are just a few the city’s most noteworthy.
CreativeMornings Chicago: CreativeMornings is a (free) breakfast lecture series that was founded by Tina Roth-Eisenberg for creatives in cities across the globe. The Chicago branch hosts events at various locations across the city one Friday a month. The focus of each lecture is always different, but regardless of which one you attend, you’ll be sure to find coffee, snacks, and good conversation. For up-to-date information on CreativeMornings CHI, follow them on Instagram.
Old Town Art Fair: This event takes place in the heart of the charming Old Town Triangle Historic District each June and showcases 250 nationally acclaimed artists. It’s estimated that around 30,000 art lovers show up for the event every summer to take in the fair’s live music, local cuisine, iconic garden walk, and children’s corner, as well as its many art stalls. In fact, it’s often considered Chicago’s favorite creative event because the crowd it attracts is known for its love of art, curiosity, and friendliness. For more information on the event, click here.
Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest: Founded in 1985 by the Near South Planning Board to attract visitors to the Printers Row neighborhood (which was once the city’s bookmaking hub), the Printers Row Lit Fest is now the Midwest’s largest free outdoor ode to literature. There, publishers, booksellers, and literacy and cultural organizations showcase books and book-related merchandise in different languages and genres, while authors participate in various panels and discussions. Typically held in June, the festival draws more than 125,000 book lovers to its two-day showcase. To follow along with the event, check it out on Instagram.
57th Street Art Fair: As the oldest juried craft fair in Hyde Park, the 57th Street Art Fair features paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and ceramics from more than 200 artists, as well as pop-up talks and an artist-at-work area, where attendees can observe the process of creation. Over the span of two days, visitors can shop for artwork created in a variety of mediums, including glass, jewelry, leather, photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, wood, ceramics, and fiber. Located next to the University of Chicago campus and the home of Barack Obama, this street fair is simply the place to be.
Randolph Street Market Festival: Typically occurring on the last weekend of each month during May through September, the Randolph Street Market Festival is home to the world-renowned Chicago Antique Market, the Indie Designer Market, Modern Vintage Chicago, and the Holiday Market. Over 100 vendors hawk their antique housewares, furniture, ephemera, clothing, and more at this indoor-outdoor festival — all while engaging in some of the city’s most prime people-watching opportunities. What’s more, there’s even a beer garden on site! To learn more about the event, you can peruse its schedule.
If you’re looking to practice your craft in the presence of an expert and a few like-minded creatives, check out these Chicago-based courses and workshops.
The Writers’ Loft: Taught by the New York Times bestselling author Mary Carter, the Writers’ Loft teaches scribes of all levels the crucial skills that make every story a success. In fact, it’s the only workshop in Chicago to have mentored over 40 novels and five nonfiction titles into print by major publishers — plus an Emmy winner. And, guess what: the first class is free. So, even if you’re just cruising through the city, why not stop in? You’re bound to learn something that will help bring your ideas to life, whether on the page, stage, or screen.
AIC: The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) was founded as both a museum and a school for the fine arts back in 1879. Today, the school and the museum are internationally recognized as two of the leading fine-arts institutions in the country. If you’re wanting to delve deeper into the museum’s collection and gain new insights into the artistic practices housed on site, consider joining one of their workshops. Although their calendar is always changing, their sketching courses are offered year-round.
Dabble: Whether you’re hoping to learn a new skill, improve a rusty one, or share your passion with others, this online platform has all of the resources you’ll need. Their Chicago page lists every creative workshop in the city by month, spanning subjects such as architecture, painting, cooking, yoga, holistic medicine, dancing, tarot card reading, and calligraphy. And they even have a page dedicated to classes under $30!
Lost Arts: Founded by Charles Adler of Kickstarter, Lost Arts is a laboratory, workshop, atelier, incubator, and creative playground all rolled into one. It’s rooted in a legacy of interdisciplinary spaces and offers tools, resources, and kinship to creatives who are bringing new ideas to life. In short, it’s a makerspace with a built-in community. Although the space doesn’t host traditional workshops just yet, Lost Labs provides artists the space and tools to experiment on their own while being mentored by the Lost Arts team.
Lillstreet Art Center: Lillstreet Art Center is a community of artists and students working side-by-side in a friendly environment that encourages and inspires artistic growth. The program supports the arts through educational courses, artist residencies, and gallery exhibitions. The current class catalog offers everything from ceramics to metalsmithing, jewelry- and glass-making, painting and drawing, printmaking, textile design, digital arts, and photography. So no matter your medium, they’ll likely have something for you!
From murals to photographs, illustrations, sculptures, and installations, Chicago’s traditional — and not-so-traditional — galleries are sure to inspire.
Hyde Park Art Center: Producing 15 exhibitions and welcoming over 45,000 visitors each year, Hyde Park Art Center is known for its exhibition program that supports artists in pushing the boundaries of their practices so that their work may make meaningful contributions to today’s social and political discourse. Through its calendar of exhibitions, the center looks to spark conversation and increase exposure of high-quality contemporary art by underrepresented artists and conduct inspirational events for the local community.
4Art Inc: 4Art Inc is known for its display of some of the city’s most diverse and creative works. The gallery is run by photographer and mixed media artist Robin Monique Rios, who originally created the space for her own artistic endeavors but has since launched an in-house program where artists can congregate for support, professional advice, and guidance. Fitting to its metaphorical corner place among Chicago’s institutions, 4Art is located in the Zhou B Art Center, a cultural landmark of the city.
ArchiTech Gallery: Displaying architectural works that span the history of the medium, ArchiTech is a unique gallery that features artists who are inspired by the world around them. The gallery is also home to the architectural artifacts, plans, and documents of one of Chicago’s most prominent industrial artists, Alfonso Iannelli. Combining hundreds of years’ worth of architectural art, this space is definitely worth a visit.
Catherine Edelman Gallery: Focusing solely on photography and displaying works from artists of various backgrounds, the Catherine Edelman Gallery features photographs that showcase a range of techniques. The gallery is concise and coherent in its focus on a single medium, but it also holds rotating exhibitions that feature specific bodies of work. With a focus on education, the gallery holds six main exhibitions annually and organizes the Chicago Project, in which budding photographers are given the chance to display their works to a wider audience.
The Streets of Chicago: Although there are plenty of noteworthy galleries in Chicago, the city is known for its colorful murals scattered throughout. While exploring them all can be daunting, you can find the city’s most prominent public art in the South Loop (on Wabash Avenue), on Milwaukee Avenue (from Wicker Park to Logan Square), and in Pilsen. One thing to note is that street art in Chicago, like the city itself, is very political. The larger works on Wabash were a result of a very deliberative public art project, the pieces in Pilsen began as a cultural touchstone and are a bulwark against gentrification, and Wicker Park street art has its roots in hip-hop culture. To get the full creative experience, be sure to visit all three areas!
Sometimes all it takes is a bit of shopping to get your creativity flowing. So why not support some local artisans while you’re at it?
Galerie F: Located in the historic Logan Square neighborhood, Galerie F is Chicago’s premier destination for gig posters, art prints, street art, and collectibles. Founded in 2012 by Chicago-based artist Billy Craven, the shop aims to provide a platform for new and emerging local artists to showcase their talents. Galerie F has played a vital role in helping launch the careers of several notable Chicago-based street artists, including Sentrock, Mosher, Penny Pinch, and J.C. Rivera. As an added bonus, the shop also hosts monthly community drawing events and facilitates both public and private mural projects in Logan Square.
Lake View Art Supply: For over 20 years, this locally owned art shop has been a North Side go-to for arts-and-crafts supplies: brushes, paints, pencils, notebooks, canvases, easels, printmaking materials, and everything in between. The store also offers custom framing and matting services, as well as ready-made frames, so you can properly display your masterpieces alongside any souvenirs you pick up during your trip.
Lillstreet Gallery: Representing emerging and established artists working in ceramics, textiles, photography, painting, drawing, metalsmithing, and more, Lillstreet Gallery has an ongoing display of handmade pottery, jewelry, creative toys, cards, and books for sale in its artisan gift shop. Since the boutique is attached to Lillstreet Art Center, remember to stop in after signing up for one of their workshops!
Sacred Art: Since being founded in 2006 with the motto “art is not a luxury,” Sacred Art has expanded to represent a community of over 100 independent artists and makers. Over the last few years it has honed its mission of selling strictly local, handmade, and independent products, and now sponsors events such as Show of Hands and the Late Late Craft Show, which donate to local charities and schools. A sense of community lies at the heart of the shop, and each of the artists represented in the space has a personal relationship with the shop owner. Stop by, peruse the selection, and connect with the makers that resonate with you.
Neighborly: Offering a one-of-a-kind selection of indie and ethically made gifts, home goods, and artwork, Neighborly supports eco-friendly artists who are transparent about their processes. Though the shop features local products, it also keeps affordability in mind — so don’t worry about prices just yet. It is important to note that all of the products in the shop fit a particular style inspired by the mid-century Modern era (i.e. most pieces are colorful, graphic, simple, approachable, and thoughtfully functional). If this aligns with your personal aesthetic, visit the Ravenswood storefront!
If you’re headed to Chicago but have a few creative projects to finish up — you’re in luck. As the number of office workers has dwindled in favor of freelancers and remote contractors in the past few years, Chicago’s coffee culture and creative spaces have merged.
Wormhole Coffee: True to its Wicker Park locale, Wormhole is a bit of an eccentric spot known for its fun and nostalgic decor — complete with a model of the Millennium Falcon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dolls, framed “Ghostbusters” posters, and a shell of the DeLorean from “Back to the Future.” And, if you’re looking to interact with the shop’s ’80s-revival items, don’t fret. The café is also stocked with Nintendo, Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, and aptly named coffee drinks, such as the Peanut Butter Koopa Troopa.
Osmium Coffee Bar: This Lakeview location specializes in espresso and hand-crafted beverages while offering a selection of baked goods. But its menu isn’t all that sets this café apart. Within its cozy atmosphere, graffiti-covered tables and iridescent-blue walls adorned with surrealist art offer their fair share of inspiration. All that plus a spicy Mayan mocha — what more could you ask for?
Since 1996, Gallery Café has sought to bring out the artist in all who enter. Serving up fresh coffee from around the world, delicious sandwiches named after classic artists, local artisan pastries, and monthly art exhibits, this Wicker Park café truly uses coffee as its canvas.
Kibbitznest: Situated in Lincoln Park, Kibbitznest eschews modern electronics for a quiet, library-esque atmosphere that caters to the printed word with its bookstore and “book bar.” Though you may need to leave your laptop at home, you can take advantage of the shop’s board games, read and/or buy liberal arts books, attend an event, type on a vintage typewriter, or watch an old movie, then relax with a beer, a glass of wine, or a cup of joe. At the end of the day, this space is sure to spark some creativity via good old-fashioned pen and paper.
Build Coffee: Located in the Experimental Station on the South Side of Chicago, Build Coffee acts as a small venue for performances, workshops, gallery shows, book groups, game nights, and more — all while selling used books, local small-press publications, journals, comics, art books, zines, and, well, coffee. Filled with bookshelves and exposed brick walls, the space has an intimate atmosphere that suits all of the above.
Did we miss anything? If so, let us know in the comments below!