Culture + Style

Art After Dark in the Windy City

A light and water installation at Chicago Loop Alliance’s ACTIVATE (Photo: Jennifer Catherine Photography)

Chicago is home to world-class museums, and hip and happening gallery districts around the city. But the Windy City’s artistic vibe really lights up after hours, giving art aficionados and amateur on-lookers a chance to delve into an array of exhibitions in a diverse range of settings. Here, some after-dark art events that’ll both turn your head and inspire your inner muse.

Take It to the Streets

Who says you need four walls to display or interact with art? Certainly not the folks behind Activate 2015, who once a month between May and October transform a downtown Chicago Loop alley into “pop-up urban experiences.” For each of these 5-to-10 p.m. events, the Chicago Loop Alliance creates interactive exhibits that invite curious nocturnal art lovers to take in music, visual art and performance. An in-the-know underground vibe runs through Activate, which launched in September 2013 — specific locations and details are shared on its website a month in advance. Activate kicked off 2015 strong in May with Johalla Projects’ NIGHTBLOOM exhibit, an exploration of the dynamics behind light and dark. Admission’s free; pay cash for whatever you drink.

Night School, Anyone?

Indulge your inner Frida Kahlo or Pablo Picasso at Paint the Town and Mix and Mingle, a weekly 7-to-9:30 p.m. event hosted by Unicoi Art Studio. While the Lakeview studio offers everything from art instruction to gallery exhibits, it takes Paint the Town on the road to different Chicago ‘hoods, like laid-back Roscoe Village. Guests take part in a two-hour painting class, and enjoy drink and food specials at nearby eateries and watering holes (you pay separately). Bring a friend or a date, along with the idea or image you’d like to paint, then bring the latter to life on canvas. Prices are $25 per person or $40 for two, and include canvases, easels, paints, smocks, brushes, and other artistic accouterments.

Walk Windy City Galleries

For decades, Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood has been home to Mexican-American families. But this South Side community now also boasts a slew of trendy galleries and artist studios near South Halsted and 18th Streets that open their doors for 2nd Fridays Gallery Night. Hosted from 6 to 10 p.m. by the Chicago Arts District, more than 30 creative spaces showcase everything from painting and photography to video art and avant-garde fashion. Pick up a map at the info center at 1821 S. Halsted for this free event and start strolling. Would-be artists and those who admire them mingle during these receptions at galleries including UFAT (United Foundation for Arts and Technology) at 1833 S. Halsted.

Go a bit farther south and check out the Bridgeport Art Center’s 3rd Friday Open Studios. With gorgeous loft spaces on several floors, this once-a-month event lets resident painters, sculptors, photographers, woodworkers and other artists share their work — and artistic processes — in an up close and personal way. Visitors can purchase original art, take part in tutorials, and enjoy light refreshments. Not only is the event free, but so is parking — and Chicagoans know that’s no small thing.

Night(s) at the Museum

Artistically minded “beautiful people” gather every other month at the Art Institute of Chicago for After Dark. Hosted by the under-40 Evening Associates of the Art Institute, this soirée’s main event is free admission to one of the renowned museum’s latest exhibitions. Always on tap at After Dark, held inside the Art Institute’s striking Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing: live bands and DJ sounds, passed hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar run from 9 p.m. to midnight. Cost is $30 adults; $20 for members and students; $15 Evening Associates members.

Farther north along the Magnificent Mile are Tuesday Evenings at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Open ’til 8 p.m. each Tuesday, the museum hosts special programming that ranges from live performances to film screenings and interactive experiences. Best of all, Tuesday Evenings are free with MCA admission — and Tuesday entry is complimentary year-round for Illinois residents of all ages.

For those who prefer their museum experience al fresco, Tuesdays on the Terrace take center stage from 5:30 to 8 p.m. each Tuesday at the MCA through Sept. 29. Chicago-area jazz musicians bring the aural art. This season, guests also can sample sounds from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a group featured in the MCA exhibition “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now,” which opens July 11. Admission is free, but for $26, Terrace-goers can enjoy a buffet featuring themed dishes made from fresh, locally grown produce sold at the MCA’s Farmers’ Market. Also available: burgers, house-made sausages, salads, and cold beverages for noshing and sipping on the grass.

Check out Mother Nature’s celestial handiwork at Adler After Dark, a 21-and-over monthly happening at the Adler Planetarium. From 6 to 10 p.m. every third Thursday, join fellow stargazers for a rotating themed evening. You also get full access to unlimited sky shows in the museum’s three state-of-the-art theaters; all its exhibits and galleries; views of the Moon, planets, stars and galaxies far away from its Doane Observatory. And step outside to sample some of the best man-made views anywhere — killer looks at the Chicago skyline from the Planetarium’s lakefront location.