How to Enjoy the Slow Comeback of Chicago’s Art Scene


After a long pandemic, it’s time to get back to living life, and for Chicagoans looking forward to the summer, there’s no better way to do that than by getting out and enjoying work by local artists.

Like many major cities in the US that have seen a swift vaccination of many adults — about 42 percent of Americans have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in early June — Chicago seems to be emerging from the pandemic.

This is most evident in the abundance of activities and artwork planned for summer viewing as the vibrant Chicago arts scene makes a slow comeback.

The arts were especially hard hit by the pandemic. According to a 2020 report from UNESCO, a third of the world’s art galleries had to cut their staffing by half or more. The closure of concerts and performance could end up costing the music industry more than $10 billion in lost sponsorships, while the global publishing market could shrink by 7.5 percent, according to a UN report.

“The arts have had a tough time during the pandemic,” said Thomas Kane, a Chicago wealth manager and art aficionado. “It’s going to take time to recover, and the best thing we can do as Chicagoans is to go out and try to support the artists that help make our city the unique place it is.”

The city is doing its best to help.

A major new arts funding initiative is aimed at helping struggling local artists and arts organizations. Drawing on $60 million in city funding, Arts 77, named after Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, hopes to help revive one of the economic sectors that’s been hit hardest by the pandemic.

But we can’t wait for local governments to help artists, Thomas Kane said. We need to go out and support them, and there are many ways to do that this summer.

You could simply go to a museum. They’ve been mostly closed since the start of the pandemic, but are slowly reopening. The Art Institute of Chicago opened its doors in February, and other museums are beginning to follow suit.

The National Museum of Mexican Art is set to reopen in July in Pilsen. The museum and its gift shop will open to the general public at 10 a.m. July 1. The reopening comes an eye-opening 474 days since the museum closed in March 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Admission is free.

Another great option is Artopia, a unique visual art experience in a 32,000-square -foot venue in Chicago’s West Loop.

“The experience invites you to step into the universe of large-scale light art installations and sculpture work from some of the most talented street artists around the country,” an article from WGN9 said. “As you make your way through the experience, the After Dark experience really begins in the Artopia lounge. There, drinks are served as you take in a burlesque, magic or acrobatic show.”

Artopia After Dark offers an evening of burlesque shows, cocktails and live music performances from DJs. There’s also a burlesque experience at the end of the walk-thru, in a cabaret-style lounge.

Finally, you may have heard of the famous MacArthur Foundation Awards, or “Genius Grants.” Venues across Chicago will exhibit artwork from the artists who received those grants this year. Nearly 30 different artists will be featured in 12 exhibitions.

You can see multimedia artist Jeffrey Gibson’s historical mashup, combining psychedelic wallpaper with 19th-century portraits of Indigenous leaders, viewable at the Newberry Library through September 18.

There’s also Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s 70-foot banners. The Nigerian-born artist paints distinctive portraits, rendering subjects in acrylic and colored pencil before surrounding them with photo collages. Now they’ll be on the sides of two buildings: the National Public Housing Museum at 625 N. Kingsbury St., and the Minnie Riperton Apartments at 4250 S. Princeton Ave.

These are just the beginning. There are so many other opportunities to support local artists, Kane said.

“Whatever you choose to do this summer, make the support of local artists a priority,” Thomas Kane said. “They need and deserve our support.”