The Best Chicago Art Experiences You Can Enjoy at Home

Take a break from Netflix.

Remember leaving the house? It's been about a month since the state of Illinois and city of Chicago have been ordered to shelter in place, and the new normal still feels like anything but. What’s typically a time of rebirth and renewal in the city has been put on pause, and many folks have found they just can’t mindlessly scroll any longer. 

We recommend taking this opportunity to get reacquainted with your creative self. Chicago’s arts and humanities institutions, as well as the local music community and dedicated creators adapted quickly to the current virtual reality. If you’re going to stare at a screen all day, at least let the arts inspire you. Here are some ways you can bring them alive at home.

Take a virtual tour of Chicago’s museums (and become part of history yourself) 

The American Writers Museum has virtual offerings, encouraging would-be guests to explore its online exhibit for My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers, as well as free webinars and author chats, and Little Squirrels Storytime for kids every Saturday at 10:30am. Each session will premiere with three stories on AWM’s Facebook page before being made available later on YouTube and Instagram TV.

The Chicago History Museum and Adler Planetarium have each launched community-based initiatives that aim to provide a feeling of togetherness while Chicagoans are apart. Be a part of the history museum’s digital record of life in the city during COVID-19 by contributing diaries, journals, images, recordings, or other items that may end up as part of the museum’s permanent collection, or be part of real scientific research from your couch with the planetarium’s Zooniverse.

Oh, you haven’t met Wellington yet? The penguin, living at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, has become a beloved quarantine figure since first filmed roaming the aquarium after its temporary closure. Wellington’s journeys, as well as those of his wildlife pals, hit the Shedd’s Facebook page almost daily, while a live cam streams 24/7 to capture its Underwater Beauty exhibit.

Bring the art class home

Lillstreet Art Center in Ravenswood has embraced Instagram Live for a number of weekly workshops and demonstrations featuring its artists-in-residence. So far, Lillstreet has offered hourlong demos on ceramics, watercolor illustration, and natural dying with products you may have right in your kitchen such as onion skins, cream of tartar, coffee grounds and turmeric. Keep an eye on its Instagram profile to stay up to date on events, all of which take place at 6pm central time.

Art museums such as the storied Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, and National Museum of Mexican Art each offer their own at-home activities inspired by their diverse collections. The Museum of Mexican Art includes activities in Spanish and English, as well as how-to guides to zine making, papel picado, and live streaming.

Enjoy an online poetry reading, write your own, or get your indie read on

Hooligan Hangouts, organized by Chicago-based DIY publication Hooligan Magazine, bring some of poetry, storytelling and music’s most brilliant minds, such as Hanif Abdurraquib, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Palehound, and Adult Mom, together in hopes of intimate, restorative connections during these uncertain times. The folks behind the magazine founded the sessions as a way for people to be able to directly support artists and mutual aid efforts -- with donations going to organizations such as Queens Mutual Aid and COVID bail out initiatives for incarcerated persons.

Inspired to write your own poetry or short story after one hangout? All of StoryStudio Chicago’s classes are currently online! The organization, which supports writers in honing their craft, strengthening their voice, and communicating with confidence, launched “Pajama Seminars” led by authors in various genres, tackling topics such as complex characters, “practical magic” in storytelling, “revelatory breaks” in language, and more. Other classes focus on personal essay writing, foundations of a novel, LGBTQ+ writing, screenwriting, and social media strategy, among others. Pajama Seminars are two hours for $55 and hosted via Zoom.

Seminary Co-Op Bookstore in Hyde Park relaunched its Front Table newsletter since closing its doors to keep with COVID-19 precautions over a month ago. Readers can browse and purchase the store’s “Front Table Books,” which are select titles deemed current must-reads, discover its backlist, engage with university and small press books, as well as uncover future favorites.

Online dance classes

Healthy Hood Chicago had been providing affordable exercise classes to city residents on the South and West sides in collaboration with other local organizations and pop-ups for just $5 before establishing its own space in Pilsen. Now, Healthy Hood is offering daily, free programming through Instagram Live to keep your body moving, but your mind at bay -- featuring everything from introductions to salsa and hip-hop choreography, and its usual vinyasa yoga and cardio kickboxing classes. The non-profit also launched its own community response initiative, We Got Us, which centers Black and Brown communities being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus spread in Chicago and is currently accepting donations.

Other Chicago-based dancers such as Common Conservatory’s Terence Marling, Motivated Movers’ Elise Melendez and contemporary company Moonwater Dance Project are gearing up for virtual, complimentary dance lessons listed on Dancing Alone Together, an online resource for the dance community to make listings and announcements more accessible. Marling will instruct ballet, while Melendez will focus on theatre jazz, but there are dozens of other classes ready to move you, too -- including barre, tap, Afro-Latin, and more. Dancers can even collaborate on “dance-making challenges” issued by choreographers and companies, or watch renown performances from around the globe.

Live music, movies, and viewings better than TV

It’s well-known Chicago is a music city, redefining hip-hop and influencing garage rock on a national scale over the past decade. So when venues across the city were shuttered, the music community quickly got to work to adapt to its new normal. With so many different options now, it’s hard to keep track of who’s playing when. Luckily Trumpet, launched by Northwestern University graduate students, aims to become the go-to index for when and where to hear local artists, compiling lists of performances hosted by Lincoln Hall and Schubas, Hideout, Empty Bottle, and others.

Experimental Sound Studio’s Quarantine Concerts continue to deliver live sets and archival footage from Monday night performance showcase Option’s 5 year history through its website, with 100% of proceeds going directly to the artists performing each day.

Bring two of the city’s most beloved movie theaters, the Music Box and Logan Theatre straight to your living room. Start your 30-day free trial of Music Box Direct, a streaming service that offers over a hundred titles of acclaimed films and TV series from around the world, with the code “MBD2020.” Meanwhile, rotating titles will be available for three-day rentals courtesy of Magnolia Pictures and the Logan. Current selections include “Once We Were Brothers” and “Slay the Dragon.”

Looking for a bit more variety? Quarantine Cabaret, brought to you by burlesque performer Michelle L’amour, features performance artists, illusionists, comedians, drag performers, circus acts, and dancers in weekly, half hour episodes available through L’amour’s website, with additional content available to those who donate. The Belmont Theater District also banded together to keep folks entertained while at home, with programming from different improv comedy and stand-up acts and theaters across the North side neighborhood, available online for bite-sized yet effective respite. Remember, laughter is the best medicine.

Discussions gone digital

For the first time in its history, the Chicago Humanities Festival will be brought to you virtually. Known for its seasonal lineups of culture critics, political commentators, authors, musicians, chefs, and countless others, the festival is slowly rolling out its spring programming -- starting with comedian, actor, and podcaster Cameron Esposito, and author of Chosen Ones, Veronica Roth. Discussions will be streamed live on Youtube and archived for rewatching. Future participants include singer-songwriter Tori Amos. Visit the festival’s website for continuous updates.

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Jessi Roti is a contributor for Thrillist.