An Art Oasis Inside the CityDiscover the enriching mix of concerts, exhibits and history at 'The People's Palace.'
Located in a building that was originally home to the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Cultural Center is a Windy City landmark steeped in history. But it is also buzzing with modern amenities and attractions.
Artist David Lee Csicsko lives on the North Side, but his studio is in the downtown core or "loop," which means he has easy access to the cultural center's great programming, (almost) all of which is free.
Once known as "The People's Palace," this mammoth, block-long public institution has been serving Chicago's population since 1897. In addition to being the first home of the library, it was the headquarters of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. Its lobby is lined with Italian Carrara marble, mined from the same quarries where Michelangelo sourced his material.
But despite its gold leaf and history, this institution is truly of the people. In 1991, the library moved to the Harold Washington branch, and the cultural center came into its own. Under a Tiffany glass dome (the largest such stained-glass dome in the world), the center hosts more than 700 programs a year.
"I am not young, but I am new when it comes to the ancient tradition of mosaics," Csicsko says. "Under the Tiffany dome, it is really special to have the old and new come together."
When Csicsko needs a short respite from his work, he heads to the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, held every Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. in Preston Bradley Hall. These free lunchtime concerts feature solo and ensemble artists playing classical music. "I try to make it to them every week. They are a really nice way to get away, right down the street," Csicsko says. When he can't make it, he listens to broadcasts of the concerts on WFMT-FM.
But the cultural center is not just for classical music fans. Wired Fridays offer more free lunchtime getaways, only with shows featuring DJs and electronic music. During these performances, it is not unusual to see downtown desk types take to the dance floor while on their lunch break.
Music is just a fraction of what goes on here. Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 1:15 p.m. there are 45-minute guided tours of the building highlighting its architectural and historical significance, no reservations required. In addition, there are four different art galleries inside the center with changing exhibitions. Some of the works are by local, national and international professionals. Others, like those of Project Onward, are by visual artists with mental and developmental disabilities.
Other activities include dance classes and film screenings. Juicebox is a series of kid-oriented programs with puppets and other performers. Many of these activities appeal to locals who, like Csicsko, want to take advantage of Chicago's rich cultural offerings.
In addition to seemingly limitless programming, the center is also home to an official Visitor Information Center. Geared toward tourists, it offers the 411 on what else to do in the Windy City, no matter what tickles your fancy.