Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 Chicago Museum Free Days

Here are the Free Admission Days for all the Chicago museums that I could find. I know there are more, but these seem to be the biggies. Note: For most of these the General Admission is free, but you still have to pay for the special features/exhibits.

Adler Planetarium
January 5, 11-15, 19, & 26
February 2, 8-12, 16, & 23
March 2, 9, 16, & 23
April 20 & 27
May 4, 11, 12, 18 & 25
June 7-11
September 7, 13-17, 21, & 28
October 5, 12, 19, & 26
November 2, 9, 16, 23, & 30
December 7, 14, & 21

Art Institute of Chicago
Thursdays 5-8pm

Chicago Children’s Museum
Free first Sunday of every month for ages 15 & under
Free Thursdays 5-8pm for everyone

Chicago History Museum
Free on Mondays

DuSable Museum of African-American History
Free on Sundays

Field Museum of Natural History
Not yet posted

Museum of Contemporary Art
Free on Tuesdays

Museum of Science & Industry
January 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29
February 8, 14
March 18
April 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
May 3
June 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
August 30
September 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28
October 4, 5, 6
November 11
December 6

National Museum of Mexican Art
Free admission every day. Performances do carry admission costs.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Thursdays are Suggested Donation Days

Shedd Aquarium

Community Discount Days:
Jan. 4, 5, 11,12, 25 and 26;
Feb. 1, 2, 8, 9, 22 and 23;
Sept. 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28;
Oct. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26; and
Nov. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 and 30.
Community Discount Weeks:
Jan. 16–21; Feb. 15–19; and June 14–18.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Opening the New Year at Jazz Showcase

Last night was my first time inside the doors of Chicago landmark Jazz Showcase. I went with my friends Heather and Sam because Roy Hargrove and his quintet were playing there and, seriously, who can resist the Hargrove? He was fantastic, by the way, with an amazing drummer, a stellar piano player and a solid bassist. The alto sax player was facile, but I didn’t like his approach. Didn’t like it. There were, however, many MANY people in the place who DID like it, so take my opinion as just that, my opinion.

But this isn’t a music review site. This is a “here’s what I’m learning about Chicago as I explore it” site, so let’s get down to business.

I loved it there. The room is lined in awesome memorabilia that I would adore having the chance to examine closely, but that would annoy fellow patrons, so I’ll have to do it stealthily on multiple visits, instead of treating it like a museum.

There are a variety of seating options. We had stools at a table in the back for the first show—it was SRO, by the time Hargrove entered—and happily moved to a table with actual chairs (with backs!!) for the 10:00, happily because my right foot went to sleep on that stool, and Heather was more than relieved to collapse against a chair back. The good thing about the stools at the back tables, I have to say, is that they give you a fantastic view of the stage, right over the heads of the people sitting in front. So that’s nice. There’s also seating at the bar for late arrivals and for those who need to be closer to the source of their drinks.

Heather informed me that there’s one bartender there who makes a perfect French martini. She had two over the course of the evening, and while the first was, she said, “Probably by the other guy,” the second was definitely from the master. Who, by the way, spent part of the evening wearing a be-feathered “Happy New Year” hat sideways on his shiny bald head like a cheap paper mohawk. My kind of bartender.

Our table service during the first show was sporadic, which could in part have been due to the size of the crowd. Sam and Heather said they’d never seen it so full in there. However, given that our server misquoted a drink price to Sam--twice--and didn’t give us our waters, even though they came on the tray with the rest of our drinks, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it was her. Especially since we got the other server when we moved tables, and she was FANTASTIC. No complaints at all about her.

According to Sam, who has been a regular at Jazz Showcase since he was a wee student at Northwestern, it was started in the 1940’s by Joe Segal who still runs it. This location is the third. Sometime early in the last decade, Segal and his son—who works with his father—closed Jazz Showcase for a couple of years. However, every time they would attend a jazz-related event in town, people would pester them about when they were going to reopen, so they eventually caved to pressure and did. Thank goodness.

Other things to know/love about Jazz Showcase:

♪ People under 21 are allowed in with a parent/guardian, which means that there were some kids in the house. It was awesome, because those kids got to experience the magic of Hargrove’s performance too, which wouldn’t be the case when an artist plays in a bar.

♪ And they’re all about making sure the kids get to experience the music. On Sundays, there is a 4pm matinee show by the headliners, which kids under 12 (with parents in tow, of course) can attend for free. Yes, the parents have to pay, but it’s still a great opportunity for the little ‘uns. And you’d better believe that when my nephew is old enough, we will go to the Sunday matinees so he can experience live jazz from world class artists during his visits.

♪ The headliners usually play Thursday-Sunday, but Jazz Showcase is open seven days a week, so Monday-Wednesday is dedicated to local artists. The cover those days drops to $10, and to only $5 for students, which makes it more than reasonable. (You should also note that though they take credit cards for drink orders, the cover charge is cash only.)

♪ And then there’s the setup. You can go to the 8 o’clock show, pay your cover and stay for the 10pm performance as well, if you want to and if the crowds allow it. We thought we were going to get booted after the first set because the place was packed and we figured they’d clear the house to let the latecomers in. BUT when that happens, those who were there early have the option of sticking around and re-entering the house if there are seats left once the new group has been settled. However, we got lucky. Enough people left after the first show that we were able to just table hop and not leave the room.

My experience at Jazz Showcase was wonderful enough that it won’t be my last. I’ll be back. Hopefully soon. Heather has assured me that unless he’s dying, Sam is always up for a visit there, and even were he dying, he’d still think hard about going. So I’ll always have company. It was a great way to cap of the first day of 2010. In fact, I leave you with Heather’s perfect tweet about the experience:

So 2010 will be my year of yes and right now i am soooo yes for roy hargrove and his 4tet!!


Jazz Showcase is located at 806 S. Plymouth Ct, in the Dearborn Station. If you’re taking the Red Line, get off at Harrison and take the southern exit. It will dump you right onto Polk going in the right direction and everything. South Plymouth Court is the street to your left when you reach the Dearborn Station. I only mention these things because I walked the length of that building, knowing I was in the right place, but only able to find Bar Louie, until I retraced my steps and just happened to look to the side.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cafe Iberico

Just a quick entry to tell you about the off-the-charts deliciousness that was my dinner this evening.

Heather and I had planned on eating at Graham Elliot, but we didn't call ahead and so discovered once we got there that they were closed for a private function. Not to worry. We'll eat there another time, and being with Heather (who in all honesty should probably be the person writing this blog because she's the one who knows about all these places) means that we had several more options on the table in a jiffy.
Odd juxtaposition I must share with you right this moment. The nearest restaurant--as in, in the building next door--to Graham Elliot is a Subway. That does strange things to your head, that vision.

We ended up going with Cafe Iberico. As Heather listed the reasons she was suggesting it: tapas, good sangria, cheap, full of Spanish expatriates, my "Yes! Yes! Yes!" got louder and louder. It sounded perfect. (The restaurant, not my shouting.)

And it was very, very close to that.

We got a half-pitcher of sangria--the real kind, with brandy, not this stupid wannabe stuff that's basically wine and sugar--a basket of awesome bread and four tapas plates (two hot, two cold) for a little over $40. Total. Which means that for the amount of awesome food we stuffed into ourselves, we paid a skosh over $20 each. It came quickly, and it was wonderful.

I have to say that ordering was a trial simply because there were so many tasty looking things on the menu and we had to limit ourselves to four. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that I will be going back, and can therefore try lots of new stuff each time I go.

And I recommend YOU go. Because it's fabulous. Friendly staff, incredible food, tasty sangria (though mine may be better) and great prices. What's not to like?

Monday, November 9, 2009

SOFA Chicago

Yesterday, Heather and I trundled through the 70 degree weather (what a gorgeous couple of days for the city, yeah?) to Navy Pier, where we spent the next three or four hours wandering through the Chicago arm of the International Exposition of Sculpture Objects and Functional Art, or SOFA.

We were dazzled.

The exposition filled up the entire Festival Hall at Navy Pier, and it took us almost two hours to get through half. We did the second half much more quickly because the two of us were very close to mental overload, and so didn't stop and gawp at everything, but instead cruised through and only gawped at the stuff we really liked.

SOFA is extraordinary. For $15, we got to look at thousands of works, from glass to ceramic to wood, to guitars, to beaded, sewn and quilted objects. All of which were for sale, though I'm pretty sure Every. Single. Thing. on display was well out of our price ranges. The cheapest price tag I saw was $485, and that was for a piece of jewelry. This is world-class art, and is priced accordingly. Of course, that didn't stop either of us from filling our imaginary homes with it. In fact, though I don't recall the piece exactly, I know there was one lovely wall sculpture that Heather and I both marveled at (it may have been in glass) that, in Heather's words, "You would have to design a house around." It was that gorgeous.

On of the exciting things about SOFA for me was the fact that I got to see so many amazing and different styles of art in so many materials. What incredible, gasp-inducing work is being created out there in the world.(There was also, I have to admit, some powerfully skeevy work at SOFA. I mean, some really creepy stuff. Really creepy. I'm not sure who buys some of those things, but I wouldn't want them in my bedroom or living room or office. I'm getting chills just thinking about a couple of the pieces again.)

Highlights of the show for me included:

Tim Tate - Oh. My. God. TIM TATE. I love his work. I had no idea he would have stuff at SOFA, but he did, and it was even better live than it is on his website. I so badly want a Tim Tate piece. So. Badly. Specifically, Artist's Attic, which was actually at SOFA. Want. Desperately.

That's it over to the left, there. He has an entire series of reliquaries. The most recent have small video screens in them, playing images that have something to do with the theme of the piece. Photo via Source)

Binh Pho - Speaking of desperate wanting, Binh Pho has become one of my new artists to adore. I don't think I'd ever seen anything of his before yesterday, but his works were displayed in several of the gallery spaces, and they're so unique and stunning that I realized they were all by one tremendously talented, amazingly patient person. His pieces are so delicate, I just wanted to pick one up and cup it in my hands, to cradle and protect and care for it.

Though now that I think of it, I must have seen something of his at the Prichard Gallery in Moscow. They had an exhibit of wood turning art several years ago, and I'm sure something of his must have been included.

The piece to the right is "Broken Dream," and it's a beautiful example of the delicacy and power of his work. I couldn't find any images of stuff I saw yesterday on his website, but that's where I found this photo. (Image Source)

Chris Antemann (porcelain sculpture) & Kendrick Moholt (photography) - Chris Antemann makes porcelain sculptures that are froofy enough to have come from Louis XIV's reign. They're human figuines with gilded, frilly, floral details. They're lovely. (Image Source)

They're also depictions of various sexual activities, which you don't realize when you first look at them, but do upon additional examination. Though maybe not, since a piece which included two fetchingly dressed women holding whips and riding crops, caressing a saddled but otherwise naked man on all fours on the bed, caused the 70-ish woman I was standing next to to say "Isn't that cute! It's called Afternoon Ride." I almost choked on my own tongue I was trying so hard to not laugh out loud.

Moholt's lovely photographs were included in the gallery, showing details of the work.

Emily Brock's glass scenes. Every single detail. Perfect. From all sides. In glass. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find any online images of the stuff we saw yesterday. She also doesn't have a website. A pity. I would have linked to her.)

Christian Faur's astonishing crayon assemblages. They're like pointilism. Only 3-D. With the tips of handcast crayons.

Geoffrey Gorman's found object animals. They look so alive, like they could move at any time.

There was also live glass blowing happening on a stage, and there is a lecture series on Friday and Saturday of the event. Clearly I will have to get a multi-day pass next year and savor the whole thing more fully. It's like the Flower and Garden Show, you shouldn't try to see it all in one day. It's headache inducing to try to do the entire show in four to six hours. Just too much information and stimulation and you come out all vibraty, with a muddle of images in your head.

Plan ahead: The 2010 International Exposition of Sculpture Object and Functional Art hits Chicago November 5-7.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


This is not so much a place as an event. For the past five years, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month, known to the participants as NaNoWriMo. My first two years, I was highly successful, clocking 72,000 words in 2005 and 51K in 2006. 2007 and 2008 were not as good to me, I made it to 15K in my third go, but only 5500 words last year. I was busy teaching and acting and everything else, what can I say? I slept when I would have been writing.

The common denominator for all those years was my location. I was on the Palouse, where a core of about ten people in the Moscow/Pullman areas got together once a week or so to write. They're nice people, but I didn't really have much in common with them, and the write-ins were often at times or locations I couldn't make, so I did most of my writing on my own, at home, in my office or at a local coffee shop. I wasn't even planning on participating in NaNo this year, but decided to sign up to encourage and support a friend.

Because I was no longer on the Palouse, I changed my home region to Chicago. And what a difference that has made.

ChiWriMo is one of the top ten groups in the world participating in NaNoWriMo. In terms of numbers, we are the 9th largest city. And it's tremendously active. There were at least 100 people at the kickoff party on November 1, which was held at the 44th Ward Dinner Party (they reserved the entire restaurant). There are anywhere from two to four write-ins per day, scheduled for locations all over the city, check out the calendar on their homepage (linked above).

Because I'm new to the city, and trying to make a community for myself, I decided to attend several events, including the statewide write-in on Saturday, and I'm so happy I have. Not only have I made tremendous strides on my wordcount, I've met some lovely people and discovered some new places to eat.

ChiWriMo has three really hardworking Municipal Liasons who run the entire thing, and I've met two of them (probably also the third, but I really don't know for sure). They're making some great choices in terms of creating a fun, competetive, supportive atmosphere for NaNo, and I'm pleased enough to be a part of it that I might actually finish this year, though since I currently don't have anything else going on, perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise.

Anyway, if you participate in NaNo, and you're in Chicagoland, you should definitely see what ChiWriMo has to offer. They're awesome.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Last night, I participated in what has to be a Chicago tradition/mainstay/happening/I can't find the word. Anyway, it's an event that happens regularly here. I was in the audience for the Halloween edition of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Heather, you see, is a Chicago 10 for the podcast Too Beautiful to Live. So when host Luke Burbank tweeted about having four tickets for the show, she offered to take a couple of them off his hands. And then she offered to take me. We got to thank him in person after the show. He was sweet and friendly and gracious.

I am so glad I went. Thanks to being comped, we were considered VIP's. And the VIPs got ushered in after everybody else, to our seats in the FRONT ROW.* Plus, we were placed directly in front of one of the audience mics. So you can hear the two of us chortling and guffawing all through the program. And it was guffaw-worthy. Peter Sagal is hilarious, Carl Kasell is slyly witty and the panel was Luke, Amy Dickinson and Julia Sweeney. I laughed harder last night than I have laughed in a long, long time. Maybe that's why I woke up in such a great mood today.

(I'm assuming it will be cut in the broadcast for length and possibly also its "you kind of had to be there" status, but the bit that slayed us both was Luke's rant about bears and Reader's Digest's "Drama in Real Life" feature, especially when Amy and Julia both jumped on the riff with him. I, too, recall being horrified by that particular series of stories as an impressionable child.)

If you're remotely acquainted with the show, I highly recommend attending a taping. Though I must tell you, it isn't exactly free. The Chicago Public Radio store sells tickets to various tapings for $21.99. Which makes me even more appreciative of the wonderful (free!) time I had yesterday evening.

*Here I want to take a moment to commend Don Hall, the WBEZ Events Coordinator. An Audience Services/Events Coordinating kind of gig is really tough, and he did a fantastic job. He was funny and warm and charming and knows how to take care of an audience and VIPs. Things happened really efficiently, but also really comfortably. And he clearly wants to make it a great experience for everyone. We watched him move some teens in attendance to the center of the front row when the people slated for those seats didn't show up. That's just awesome.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Art on Track

Yesterday, my friend Heather and I went to a traveling* art exhibit, Art on Track. This was the second year for the exhibit, and when I say traveling, I want to make it clear that I mean traveling. As in, we went places while in the exhibit. Just around the Loop, mind you, but I think we ended up making the circuit three times total.

This year's exhibit was free, though I understand you had to pay to enter last year. And by free I mean that there was a $10 suggested donation (oops. I had $4 on me, so that's what they got), and a sponsor, Fiji Water, who made the whole thing accessible for more people.

Here's how it works: You enter the L at the "Art on Track" marked stairs at Adams and Wabash. The lovely people at the exhibit table give you a program, a magazine and a stylish bracelet. Then they let you in the gate. You don't have to pay to get on the system. Then you stand on the platform and wait for the train. We weren't sure how we would know which train it was, but it ended up being easy. It was the train with all of the indicators set to "Not in Service."

I remarked to Heather that it might be kind of fun being the engineer on this train, and it did seem like he was having a good time. The "Doors Closing" chime wasn't operating, so HE was doing it for us. It was really relaxed and fun.

There are eight total stops on the Loop itself, but the Art on Track train only stops at every other one. Since there are eight cars total in the exhibit, you go around the Loop (at least) twice to see everything. We ended up going around three times because we hung out for more than one stop in a couple of the cars to be sure we got the full experience.

It was so much fun to be on that train, to see the art and then to scurry out and to another car at the stops. There was a really festive air among the attendees, and people on the various platforms were curious about the giggling, grinning people who would simply get off one car to rush to the next.

We also got our share of idiots, though. Heather and I boarded the car you see above, where everything was wrapped in bubble wrap. As the train was waiting at the platform, another woman got on. The conductor walked through at that moment, and she stopped him to ask whether this particular train went to Midway. No joke. He said, "No. This is a chartered train for the Art on Track exhibit. It only does a ciruit of the Loop. You need to take the Orange Line to Midway." "So it doesn't go to Midway Airport?" she asked again.

I got the sense that the entire crowd in the car wanted to yell "NO!" at her. I mean, not only did every indicator on the exterior of the train say, "Not in Service," with white on black lettering, as opposed to white on orange declaring "Midway Airport," they announced over the PA at every stop that it was the Art on Track train, AND she stepped onto a car full of bubble wrap. Yet even when the conductor told her no, she still didn't believe him. Honestly. How stupid can some people be?

The bubble wrap car itself was awesome, by the way. I'm only sorry we didn't go earlier (the train ran 11am-8pm, we got on about 4pm), so that we could have experienced the floor before dozens of feet popped all the bubbles.

The train was a mix of galleries and installations. I have to say, I preferred the installations, they were just more provoking and fun and had been created to play with the whole idea of the exhibit and participation. That's my favorite kind of art anyway.

The installation pictured to the right was called, "Meat Meet Train," and was filled with fabric forms that looked like hung meat in a locker, along with banners and slings in reddish-toned fabrics. Also, all over the car in various places were stickers with "Chance Encounters" personal ads printed on them, all of them having to do with the L system. We stayed on that car for more than one stop, to be sure we read all of the stickers.

The installation pictured below was a train car filled with money bags. They were all sizes and shapes, made from all kinds of different materials, with dollar signs stamped, painted, drawn and sewn on. According to the kids who were a part of it (and I can call them kids, none of them were over 20), each bag held mostly junk--recycled paper, garbage bags, newspaper, etc.--but also a single valuable item. Which is a lovely metaphor for the lives these trains carry around. How much of my own life, for instance, is about junk, stuff I don't need to lug about with me, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, and what does it contain that is of real worth?

So kudos to them for coming up with such a great idea and figuring out how to implement it. Because it was awesome. The moneybags pictured below are less than a tenth of the entire installation, by the way. It was HUGE.

There were also two installations I didn't photograph, just because it felt weird. I hate posting pictures of people I don't know on the blog. It feels like an invasion of privacy, which is also why I didn't pursue a career as a videographer, though I could have. I hate sticking cameras in people's faces. So Heather is in one pic and the back of a random person is in another, and in the two installations where things were more open, I didn't take any pictures at all. But I'd like to try to describe them here.

At one point, we stepped onto a car that was fairly empty. It may even have come right after the car full of the money bags or it may have come after the Meet Meat Train. I don't recall. I know that it felt spacious and clean after whichever full car we'd just come from. Anyway, the installation was really simple. There was a curtain of red netting across the center of the train, dividing it into halves. You could pass through if you chose, and you could also see what was at the other end of the car. All of the advertising signage had been removed and replaced with two words--bright red letters, all caps--which were also affixed to the windows so people outside could read them. Depending on which side of the net you stood on, you were labelled either "US," or "THEM." And that was it.

I love art that makes you think.

The other installation was a car that only Heather and I ended up on, along with one of the artists, who explained in a bit of a hurry, what his car was all about. I wish that hadn't been the very last car we visited, or that we'd been on it for more than one stop, because I would have liked to hear more about it.

Three artists, who call themselves the NFA Project, noted the worry they see on everyone's faces right now, as we deal with the pressures and scariness of the economy and financial insecurity/instability. They wanted to address that. So they made 50 lifejackets out of blue plastic tarp stuffed with newspaper, and they painted silver waves of anxiety on each. They paid 10 cents apiece for the buckles on the vests. Everything else was found. Each seat on the car had a life vest, the idea being to provide a sense of comfort to each person who came onto the car. It was heartwarming and wonderful. I actually felt comforted by the time we got off, though, as I said, I would have liked to have stayed on that car through maybe one more stop, just to chat with the artist and learn a bit more about the installation.

As it was, though, I'm very glad that was the last car we rode on. It was the perfect set of images to take away with me.

I really enjoyed the experience. It was a great afternoon of art, and a tremendously fun way to both present and see it. I was a bit sorry to not see any live music or performance based art of any kind in the exhibit. I feel that's lacking. I wonder whether it would be possible to do something workable. I should talk to one of my newest acquaintances about what we could do in a CTA car that would be live performance in the spirit of the exhibit. He's working on a Ph.D in Living Art at Kings College, Belfast. It might be something right up his alley, and it might also be something someone here would consider working on. Hmmmm...

*As I said to Dave over the phone the night before, "You can't do this in Moscow." The main reason being that Moscow barely has public transit at all, let alone a light rail system. Though their ArtWalk every June is sort of like this project in reverse.