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Lecture series in Chicago

Geek out at quirky lecture series around town.


If schools served beer, attendance rates would skyrocket. Test scores, not so much. These local lecture series serve up knowledge alongside beer, coffee and a generous dose of snark.

PechaKucha Night
The onomatopoeia in Japanese for chitchat, the PechaKucha lecture series (pronounced “pe-cha-ka-cha”) has been in Chicago for five years. Hosted at a North Center bar, it’s perfect for anyone with a short attention span: Each night features 12 presenters, including academics, artists and community organizers, who have exactly 400 seconds each to rock your intellectual world.
Dates, times and locations vary.

Get the creative juices flowing with a side of orange juice at this monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types. Each event includes a 15- to 20-minute talk from local graphic designers, illustrators and website creators, as well as an open discussion of their work. Bonus: You can watch recorded talks online.
When Dates vary, 8:30–10am.
Locations vary. Free.

Ignite Chicago
If you’ve got an idea—and a fair share of guts—you can opt to get onstage at this fast-paced lecture series. Held at creative locales like coworking space 1871 (see more on this in “Where start-ups start up,” page 2), each event features 10 to 12 five-minute talks from anyone who has something to say (and gets approved). Past presentations have included “Why You Hate Comic Sans” and “How I Became Raiden the God of Thunder.” Prepare to get creative (a.k.a. random).
Once every two months
Locations vary. $10.

Gallery Talks
Most visitors’ experiences passing through an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art are accompanied by questions and head tilts. That’s why the museum offers Gallery Talks for each of its exhibitions in which the featured artists or topical experts explain the works. The talks take place at least once a month, but if you catch an exhibition on opening weekend, you can easily hit a handful.
When Dates and times vary.
Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago Ave (312-280-2660). Free with admission (free admission for Illinois residents on Tuesdays).

College of Complexes
Perhaps the original Chicago fun-time lecture, this program has hosted more than 3,100 talks since it all began in 1951. Its three-part program includes one in-depth presentation followed by a Q&A and remarks and rebuttals. Topics range from corporate welfare in Chicago to the Mayan calendar (it’s 2012, you know!).
Saturdays, 8–11pm.
Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N Lincoln Ave (773-248-1820). $3 (plus required food and drink purchase).

Creative Living in the City
Each year, Friends of the Parks offers free quarterly lectures on the parks, environment, urban planning and public policy. This year’s series pays homage to former Chicago Park District president Walter Netsch, with aerial photography of Chicago, discussions of the city’s Millennium Reserve, and more.
Quarterly, 12:15–1pm.
Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington St (312-744-6630). Free.

Night Lab
Hypothesis: Science is sexy. And held at hip watering holes (Schubas, Hopleaf, etc.). This late-night lab is out to prove it. During labs, anywhere from 74 to 200 lab-goers get frisky with science, comparing footage of men’s and women’s brains during sex and learning about the chemistry of chocolate, while tasting it, of course.
Every Sunday evening during the school year, 6:30–8:30pm.
Locations vary. Free.

Held by local artistic nonprofit Homeroom, 101 is an introductory crash-course in just about everything sex, drugs and rock & roll. At each class, one to three journalists, professors, artists and the like share their takes on cultural phenomena like hobos and Godzilla.
The second Tuesday of the month at 9pm.
Where Hungry Brain, 2319 W Belmont Ave. Free (donations appreciated).