Your Guide to a Chicago Summer Full of Art

Your Guide to a Chicago Summer Full of Art

Written by:
Kat Roberts
Jul 05, 2021

After a year of remote schooling, glowing screens, and few opportunities to get outdoors, many Chicago students and their families are finally regaining some semblance of normalcy this summer. This means a return to beloved pastimes, like days at the beach, visits with family, and the opportunity to see and create art in person.

We can’t wait to get out there, and we want you right there with us! That’s why we’ve put together this list of art activities for kids and families in Chicago. Stay entertained and creative all summer long with these sights, sounds, and events for kids and adults alike! 

Visit an Outdoor Installation

Installation art is a field of limitless possibility, and summertime is ripe for outdoor works that are grand in scale and use the nature surrounding them as a medium. Morton Arboretum, located in the west suburbs, hosts a rotating lineup of adventurous, larger-than-life sculpture. Their newest exhibit, Human+Nature, has had its opening delayed by pandemic-related shipping issues, but is set to open soon and sure to be stunning. Created by South African artist Daniel Popper, these sculptures will tower multiple stories into the arboretum’s canopy, and encourage exploration and interaction.

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Slightly further afield – about an hour’s drive south from downtown Chicago – is Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, a sprawling collection of outdoor artworks situated on thirty acres of prairie on the Governors State University campus. Famous for its Paul Bunyan sculpture, this is a beautiful hike with an eclectic collection for art lovers of all ages.

Take an Art Class

If your kids miss the tactility of art class – or if you need a grown-up break during the summer months – you might want to check out some of the many kids’ classes and camps offered throughout the city. Ravenwood’s Lillstreet Art Center offers their Kidstreet Classes & Camps from June through August on such diverse subjects as graphic novels, sewing, and metalsmithing. Their programming is accessible to all ages, with classes offered for children from 3 to 16. 

After School Matters is geared specifically toward teens, who can participate in apprenticeships, even earning stipends for completion. ASM’s scope is wide and forward-thinking, offering creative training in arts ranging from cooking to performance to painting. More than that, this program is focused on teaching teenage students skills in organization, task management, and communication to aid their journeys through college and adulthood.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago will offer online camps this summer as well, and the National Museum of Mexican Art hosts a bilingual arts camp for children aged 7 to 12.

Spend a Day at the Museum

In addition to offering summer classes and camps, Chicago museums are always great places to spend an afternoon, no matter your age. The Art Institute of Chicago is free to Chicago residents under 18, and any child under 14. The Museum of Contemporary Art is free to anyone under 18, and all Illinois residents can attend free on Tuesdays. For accessible admission to a dozen major Chicago museums, zoos, and more, check out Chicago Public Library’s Kids Museum Passport program.

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Off the beaten path of the Loop and Lakeshore Drive, Chicago also offers smaller, quirky museums to curious urban explorers. WNDR Museum, nestled into an unassuming block in Ukrainian Village, invites visitors into an immersive, new media space that encourages play, dance, and, well, wonder. Meanwhile, on the South Side, Zap Props offers tours of their enormous warehouse of TV and movie props, replete with photo ops and familiar items from numerous Hollywood productions. While WNDR is suitable for all ages, Zap is a PG-13 experience. 

 

Chicago Landmarks

I love finding hidden gems as much as the next guy, but there’s no shame in hitting the tourist attractions, too! People love the Loop and the lakeshore for a reason, after all. In addition to the world-famous Chicago Bean (known formally as Cloud Gate and created by Anish Kapoor), downtown’s Millennium Park is home to Crown Fountain, a perfect place for families to cool down and play. The fountain, designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, features two towers of LED screens in a large basin. All summer, the screens show the faces of real Chicagoans, who purse their lips to pour a spout of water onto onlookers below.

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For a famously funky spot in the city, check out Oz Park, a weird and wonderful Lincoln Park fixture. This 13-acre plot was named to honor Chicagoan L. Frank Baum’s stories back in 1976, but its bronze sculptures of Dorothy, Toto, and friends did not start going in until the 1990’s. In addition to sculpture, the park holds a community ‘Emerald’ garden, an Oz-themed playground, and basketball courts, in case there’s a jock in the family. 

Explore the Murals of Chicago

If the Chicago art scene has a defining feature, it just might be our murals. Dotting the city, Chicago’s murals define neighborhoods, spell out the city’s history, and imagine a bright and colorful future. Every corner of the city is home to an amazing bounty of street art, some of it done by taggers after dark, some commissioned by local business, some grown out of community initiatives. 

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Fallen Dictator by Marcos Raya; photo by Kaitlynn Scannell

A few spots in town warrant a special trip, thanks to the concentration and craft of the murals that call them home. Pilsen is a Mexican neighborhood alive with art that reflects its residents’ Latinx and immigrant stories. The Chicago History Museum offers walking tours of the neighborhood’s artworks, or you can take a free, self-guided tour (I like this one). Although Pilsen is my favorite spot to view street art, it’s also worth checking out the Wabash Arts Corridor, a South Loop mural district you can navigate with this interactive map.

Street Fairs

Chicago is a city built of lively and distinct neighborhoods. The summer here is a time of music in the streets, full patios, and celebrations of local culture. For over 20 years, Ravenswood ArtWalk has merged the industrial heritage of the North Side neighborhood with its thriving population of artists for a unique experience. Attendees of this weekend-long event tour local artists’ studios, while also learning about the architectural history of the area and visiting historic and active manufacturing spaces. 

The Pilsen neighborhood is also home to 18th Street Pilsen Open Studios, an art festival that is also celebrated by several of the fantastic restaurants that line 18th. Participating artists include Chicago icons like Sentrock and Hector Duarte, and the vibrant surroundings makes this tour a perfect day of art. Last year, Open Studios went digital, and the status of its 2021 summer is still up in the air. Whether it’s in person or online, this is a group of artists worth getting to know!


Art and culture are what make living in Chicago so special. For updates on Chicago artists and activities, keep up with our blog

We believe that art is more than just a perk of city living – it is a human right. If you or your company are interested in contributing to arts access for students across Chicago, check out our Sponsor a School initiative.

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Written by:
Kat Roberts
Jul 05, 2021

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