A Legacy of Cultural Diversity

The Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago’s residents comprise dozens of ethnic groups, with more than a hundred languages spoken. Restaurants and markets that reflect different ethnicities fill its many neighborhoods, while clubs, parades, and festivals celebrate the unique contributions of a host of cultures. In addition, many museums across the city focus the public’s attention on the history and art of specific ethnic groups—Chinese, Polish, Jewish, Greek, and Ukrainian, to name a few. On these pages, we’ll focus on three of the many culturally rich venues our city has to offer.

The Chicago Cultural Center, the historic landmark located downtown on the corner of Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue, was originally built in the late nineteenth century as the city’s main public library. Today, through the auspices of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, it provides hundreds of programs free of charge for the city’s residents. The many facilities at the Cultural Center include a concert hall, a theater, exhibit halls, a dance studio, a gallery, and a café. Among its many offerings, the Cultural Center serves as an exceptional visual arts venue that reflects a strong commitment to ethnic heritage and diversity. The center’s goal is to expose the public to artwork that may not be available for view in more traditional museums and galleries around the city and to provide opportunities for local artists to show their work. Also displayed are national and international traveling shows, expanding the public’s awareness of the larger visual arts community. Exhibits cover a variety of areas: architecture, fine arts, folk arts, crafts, and cultural studies. Gallery talks, lectures, panel discussions, and educational programs help support the public’s understanding and appreciation of the arts.

The DuSable Museum of African American History

The DuSable Museum of African American History, located in Washington Park at 57th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue, was founded in 1961 as an independent museum dedicated to the study, collection, and preservation of African and African American history and culture. The museum was first located in the home of its founder, artist and educator Dr. Margaret Burroughs. In 1973, the museum moved to its current location and was renamed after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable. DuSable was a Haitian of African and French descent, who established a trading post and settlement in 1779 that would eventually become Chicago. The DuSable Museum owns more than 15,000 pieces of art and historical artifacts. The permanent fine art collection includes works by African American artists including Augusta Savage, Henry O. Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett, Archibald Motley, Marion Perkins, and William H. Johnson. Special exhibits are also planned on a regular basis, displaying works from private collections and other museums and galleries around the country. Each year, the DuSable sponsors workshops, lectures, and special events that help educate the public. Its annual Arts and Crafts Festival promotes the exhibition and purchase of current works by African American artists from Chicago and other parts of the United States.

The National Museum of Mexican Art

The National Museum of Mexican Art is located on 19th Street in the Pilsen community and is considered by many to have the biggest and best collection of Mexican art in the United States—both traditional and contemporary. Founded in 1982 by a group of teachers, it was first named the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. To reflect its national status, the name was changed in 2006. The museum strives to preserve and encourage an appreciation of Mexican culture through its exhibitions, educational programs, and special events. The permanent art collection consists of more than 6,000 pieces. In both its permanent collection and its special exhibits, the museum embraces the sin fronteras, or “without borders,” definition of Mexican art as artwork created on either side of the border. Works represent a wide range of periods, from ancient artifacts to the 18th-century work of Miguel Cabrera to the recent work of Mario Castillo and Hector Duarte. In addition to its commitment to the visual arts, the museum has supported Mexican culture in other ways. In the mid-1990s, the museum acquired a radio station, WRTE 90.5 FM. The station, Radio Arte, is Latino-owned and offers a bilingual media-training program to young people. The museum also sponsors events that celebrate Mexican culture through dance, theater, film, literature, music, and culinary arts.