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Ballet Chicago
Photograph: Courtesy Ballet Chicago

The best things to do in Chicago this week

Find the very best things to do in Chicago this week including cultural events, virtual concerts and art.

By Zach Long and Emma Krupp

It's the final week of February and hopefully the days of snowfall and outlandish "dibs" are behind us. Get out of the house to see some museum exhibits at reopened institutions throughout Chicago, or stick around your place and tune into a variety of virtual events. This week you can support some of the best Chicago breweries during an online beer festival, see a Lunar New Year-themed puppet show or listen to a reading of a play presented by the Goodman Theatre. Before the shortest month of the year is over, get up to speed on the best things to do in Chicago this week.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Chicago right now

Best things to do in Chicago this week

Nelson Mandela
Photograph: Graeme Williams / Illinois Holocaust Museum

1. “Mandela: Struggle for Freedom”

Museums History Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Skokie

Learn about the life of Nelson Mandela and his long fight against apartheid in South Africa and racial injustice around the world through this exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. The exhibit celebrates the life of Mandela and seeks to empower visitors to fight the racism, antisemitism and injustice that still exists in the modern world. “Mandela: Struggle for Freedom” collects original letters and documents that Mandela penned, displayed alongside a recreation of the tiny prison cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life and the small apartment that served as the backdrop for his first televised interview.

Eris Brewery and Cider House
Photograph: Courtesy Eris Brewery and Cider House

2. Northwest Brewfest

Things to do Festivals Various locations throughout Chicago,

Celebrating breweries on the Northwest Side of Chicago, this two-virtual event includes free tours and tasting lead by local brewers. Sign up for tours of Alarmist, Old Irving, Twisted Hippo, Eris and Lake Effect via Zoom, or attend a coffee brewing workshop lead by Brü Coffeeworks and a cocktail class from the folks at Bokeh. If you want to taste some beer, you can order a sampler six-pack until February 27 and pick it up from Eris Brewery and Cider House. Check out the Northwest Brewfest website for a complete schedule of events.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit
Photograph: Vladimir Kevorkov

3. “Immersive Van Gogh”

Art Lighthouse ArtSpace, Old Town

Step inside of Starry Night and The Bedroom in Arles with the help of more than 50 digital projectors in this high-tech exhibition that explores the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Designed by the Italian creative team that worked on the "Atelier des Lumières" exhibitions in Paris, "Immersive Van Gogh" covers 35-foot walls with animated versions of the Dutch painters work, accompanied by a score that blends electronic and classical compositions. The exhibition will take up residence in the Germania Club Building in Old Town, which will go by the name Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago and host additional interactive art exhibitions in the coming years.

Bill Gates
Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Humanities Festival

4. Bill Gates: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Things to do Talks and lectures Various locations throughout Chicago,

He's best known for co-founding Microsoft and becoming a billionaire in the process, but Bill Gates has spent much of the past decade learning about climate change—and how the world can adapt to meet the challenges of a warmer future. In this new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Gates lays out a plan for getting to zero greenhouse gas emission before a crisis can begin, consulting with scientists, biologists, politicians and other experts. Joined by Dax Shepard and Monica Padman, Gates will discuss his findings as part of this conversations presented by the Chicago Humanities Festival and Seminary Co-op Bookstores.

Ballet Chicago
Photograph: Courtesy Ballet Chicago

5. Ballet Chicago: Heralding the Black Aesthete

Dance Ballet Various locations throughout Chicago,

Ballet Chicago kicks off its free archival dance program with a showcase of choreography set to the work of Black composers and artists like Billy Strayhorn, Herbie Hancock, Florence Price and Maya Angelou. The two-part show include a collaboration with the Merit School of Music and a series of dances set to the jazzy "Ellington Suite." RSVP to recieve a link to view the performance for free.

Photograph: Courtesy the Goodman Theater

6. The Secretaries Virtual Reading

Theater Comedy Various locations throughout Chicago,

Goodman Theatre’s Future Labs presents a free reading of The Secretaries, a new play from Omer Abbas Salem, an ensemble member of The New Colony and Steep Theatre who also wrote Mosque4Mosque and Being Julia Roberts. The story follows four women who compete to be Adolf Hitler's personal secretary, as he retreats to his bunker in Berlin. Salem pens an absurd and timely narrative that explores misguided interpretations of patriotism.

tom lee puppets
Photograph: High Concept Laboratories

7. Tom Lee: “The Great Zodiac Animal Race”

Theater Puppet shows Various locations throughout Chicago,

Eighth Blackbird's Chicago Artists Workshop program presents a streaming show featuring puppeteer Tom Lee, performing a Lunar New Year zodiac tale. Lee will use shadow puppet animals inspired by Asian languages and pictograms during this all-ages show, looking back on his memories of Lunar New year celebrations when he was growing up in Hawaii.

Special Olympics Chicago Polar Plunge at North Ave. Beach, Chicago, Ill. Sunday, March 4, 2018.
Photograph: Jason Brown

8. Chicago Polar Plunge

Things to do Various locations throughout Chicago,

Don't head to North Avenue Beach to take a dip in the icy waters of Lake Michigan this March—you won't find thousands of other shivering Chicago Polar Plunge participants. The annual Special Olympics Chicago fundraiser is going virtual this year, asking plungers to get creative with their costumes and their plunges. You can jump into a snow bank, a cold shower or pour a bucket of water over your head as you support Chicago's Special Olympians. The event will culminate with a Virtual Meltdown Party, where teams will be able to share video and photos of their outlandish plunges.

Cecil McDonald, Jr.
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

9. “Cecil McDonald, Jr.: Cuts and Beats”

Art Contemporary art Hyde Park Art Center, Kenwood

Local artist Cecil McDonald, Jr. presents a collection of recent work, much of it developed during a 2018 residency at the Hyde Park Art Center. Known for his photomontages that comment on the various racist representations of Black individuals and artists throughout history, "Cuts and Beats" explores how Black artists were promoted during the Vaudeville and Minstrel eras. Juxtaposing vintage advertisements with contemporary photos, McDonald's work acknowledges the deeply problematic imagery and attitudes of the past and turns them on their head.

wndr museum
Photograph: Courtesy wndr museum

10. WNDR museum

Art Installation 1130 W Monroe St, West Loop

The home of Chicago's only Infinity Mirror Room (created by Japanese Yayoi Kusama) is open to the public once again, presenting a new collection of one-of-a-kind art installations alongside some old favorites. New additions to WNDR Museum include a multi-sensory experience from S̶A̶N̶T̶IA̶G̶O̶X that uses artificial intelligence, sounds, visuals and scents, as well as an installation called I Heard There Was a Secret Chord that allows guests to become part of an evolving virtual choir.

Chicago Children's Choir
Photograph: Kyle Flubacker

11. Chicago Children’s Choir: Preserving and Persevering

Music Various locations throughout Chicago,

Originally formed in Hyde Park as a response to the Civil Rights Movement, Chicago Children's Choir celebrates Black History Month with a program built around music by Black artists. The streaming concert will feature a collaboration with vocalist Lisa Fischer as well as choral arrangements of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome.” You can tune into the free livestream on YouTube and Facebook.

Photograph: Andrew Bennett

12. Mobley + Michigander + Jennifer Hall

Music Rock and indie Various locations throughout Chicago,

Austin, Texas rocker Mobley stages an edition of his virtual Devil In A Daydream tour that will partially benefit Wicker Park venue Subterranean. His headlining set will feature footage that he's recorded in venues and more natural settings, exploring material from his recent album, Young & Dying in the Occident Supreme. Supporting acts for his Chicago-centric show include Michigander, Jennifer Hall and Ryan Argast of Marina City. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a portion of procedes benefitting the DAWA Fund.

Schitt's Creek
Photograph: Courtesy Comedy Central

13. Schitt Happens Pop-Up

Nightlife Pop-ups and food events Replay Lincoln Park, Lake View

Replay Lincoln Park's latest pop-up draws inspiration from Schitt’s Creek, the beloved comedy about a bunch of unlikable rich people adjusting to a new life in a town they own. Visitors to Schitt Happens will be able to snap photos in front of recreations of locations from the show, including the Rosebud Motel, Café Tropical, Moira’s Wig Wall and the welcome to Schitt’s Creek sign. The Chicago Makers Pop Up Shop is running a recreation of the Rose Apothecary, selling artisanal items and merch created by local artists.

The pop-up's Café Tropical menu features food and cocktails that fans will recognize, including Ahn-chiladas, Lovebird Wings, Rosebud Cinnamon Buns and Schitt Fries. Each reservation includes two cocktails and access to more than 30 vintage arcade machines during a one-hour time slot.

You'll be able to visit the Schitt Happens Pop-Up through April 1. While walk-ups are welcome, making a reservation in advance is recommended.

Monet Poppy Fields
Photograph: The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection.

14. “Monet and Chicago”

Art Painting Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

The Art Institute of Chicago hosted Claude Monet’s debut U.S. solo show in 1895 and was the first American museum to buy one of his paintings. "Monet and Chicago" acts as an homage to the city's special connection to the “father of Impressionism,” showcasing a mixture of major works as well as rarely seen sketches and landscapes sourced from local collections.

Isaiah Collier
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

15. Fulton Street Collective Jazz Series

Music Jazz Various locations throughout Chicago,

Visual and performing arts incubator the Fulton Street Collective continues its regular jazz performance program, hosting sets featuring local musicians that can be streamed on YouTube. February's scheduled includes acts like the Kyle Madsen Trio, Chris Greene Quintet and the Isaiah Spencer Quartet playing John Coltrane's Both Directions at Once. Check out the Fulton Street Collective for a complete schedule and additional details.

Chicago Gamespace
Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Gamespace

16. “Nom Nom: 40 Years of Pac-Man Design and History”

Art Digital & interactive Chicago Gamespace, Logan Square

You've probably played Pac-Man before, but did you know that the iconic video game character was introduced to American audiences by Chicago-based Midway Games? Chicago Gamespace's latest exhibition explores the history of one of the most popular digital characters on the planet, considering how a yellow group of pixels became a beloved part of pop-culture that has jumped from arcade cabinets to home consoles and movie screens. Collecting games and Pac-Man ephemrea (including soap, lunch boxes and clothing), “Nom Nom: 40 Years of Pac-Man Design and History” is an interactive tribute to a the hungriest video game icon.

Chicago Cultural Center
Photograph: Martha Williams

17. Historic Chicago Cultural Center Virtual Tours

Things to do Various locations throughout Chicago,

The stunning halls of the Chicago Cultural Center might be closed for now, but you can still explore its expanses via these free, 40-minute virtual tours from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Virtual visitors will receive an overarching view of the building's architecture and history, including views of its famous Tiffany dome. To book a tour, head to DCASE's website to reserve a slot—tours are available on the first and third Wednesday of every month at 11am. 

 Jo Ractliffe
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

18. “Jo Ractliffe: DRIVES”

Art Photography Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

The stark, black and white imagery of South African photographer Jo Ractliffe takes the spotlight in this new Art Institute of Chicago survey of her work. Ractliffe's images confront the aftermath of apartheid, the legalized form of racial discrimination that exisited in South Africa until the early ‘90s. Depicting barren landscapes and literal debris, her photos and video installations document places and people that are reckoning with the consequences of forces beyond their control.

Rock Island Public House drive-in
Photograph: Courtesy Rock Island Public House

19. Drive-in, Dinner and Drinks

Movies Rock Island Public House, Suburbs

The Rock Island Public House hosts a themed drive-in movie series every weekend, screening classic genre flicks accompanied by beer and food that you can enjoy in your car. Upcoming weekends will feature kung-fu movies, romantic films and an entire weekend of The Big Lebowski. Screenings are free to attend and first come, first served, so check out the calendar and show up early to secure your spot in front of the makeshift screen!

20. “K. Kofi Moyo and FESTAC ’77: The Activation of a Black Archive”

Art Photography Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Woodlawn

Centered around a collection of images from Chicago-based photographer Karega Kofi Moyo, this exhibition looks back at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (a.k.a. FESTAC ’77), which took place in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977. Moyo's photographs document a pivotal gathering of the Black diaspora, accompanied by images of Black life during the ’70s. The exhibit also includes contemporary responses to Moyo's work, provided by participants in a University of Chicago that explored Black photography archives.

Visitors will need to register and reserve a time to view the exhibition via the
Logan Center for the Arts website.

Krista Franklin, Self-Portrait in the Aftermath , 2020.
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

21. “Reproductive: Health, Fertility, Agency”

Art Photography Museum of Contemporary Photography, Loop

Eight different artists consider the psychological, physical and emotional tolls of reproduction, displaying photographs that explore unconventional representations of the female body. Tackling topics like birth, miscarriage and abortion, “Reproductive: Health, Fertility, Agency” draws attention to the rights of females at a time when they are once again being threatened throughout the world.

Guests wishing to view this exhibition must secure a reservation in advance of their visit.

Cobra Lounge pop-up
Photograph: Courtesy Cobra Lounge

22. Chicago Craft: A Collective Grip Pop Up Shop

Shopping Pop-up shops Cobra Lounge, West Loop

Cobra Lounge and Jeppson’s Malört have teamed up to present an ongoing pop-up, bringing together goods from local creators as well as fresh beer from area breweries. Hosted inside the Cobra Lounge, you'll find vednors selling everything from soap to hand-knitted goods, alongside beer from All Rise Brewing, Half Acre and On Tour. You can also grab a drink (including the sought-after Barrel Aged Malört) and enjoy it beside an outdoor bonfire. Capacity is limited and face masks must be worn when inside Cobra Lounge.

Virtual yoga
Photograph: Shutterstock

23. Cats 'n Mats Yoga

Sports and fitness Yoga & Pilates Various locations throughout Chicago,

You can do your downward dogs in the company of some pretty adorable cats as part of this monthly virtual yoga series from the Anti-Cruelty Society, during which an instructor will host an hour-long session among a couple of kittens. After the lesson concludes, you'll be treated to a virtual show-and-tell session with the yoga kitties—and who knows, maybe you'll be inspired enough to take one home. 

24. Late Great Nocturnal Night at NPV

Sports and fitness North Park Village Nature Center, North Park

Too busy for a hike during the day? Head to the 46-acre expanses of North Park Village Nature Center Park on the last Friday of every month for a self-guided hike during the early evening. The park, which normally closes at 4pm, will remain open until 6:30pm for strolling, stargazing and searching for nocturnal animals. It will be dark, of course, so bring a friend! 

ice skating
Photograph: Shutterstock/ReaLiia

25. Ice Skating at Rosemont’s Parkway Bank Park

Sports and fitness Parkway Bank Park,

Hit the ice at the Chicago Wolves Ice Rink at Rosemont's Parkway Bank Park, where you can reserve a free 45-minute skating session every day through January (including holidays); the rink will also be open on Sundays through February. Use of the rink itself is free—with skate rentals available for $8—but you'll need a credit card to hold your reservation online. 

Virtual yoga
Photograph: Shutterstock

26. Virtual Yoga at Garfield Park Conservatory

Sports and fitness Yoga & Pilates Various locations throughout Chicago,

Tune in every Saturday for a free yoga class taught by one of the resident instructors at Garfield Park Conservatory—all are welcome regardless of skill level. Be sure to register ahead of time to get the link to join, and consider throwing in a donation to help support the Conservatory's programming. 

Bisa Butler
Photograph: Margaret Fox

27. “Bisa Butler: Portraits”

Art Textiles Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

Enter the colorful world of Bisa Butler in this exhibition devoted to the textile artist's portrait quilts, which depict Black subjects that have historically been marginalized. Originally trained as a painter, Butler shifted to making works with fabrics, layering textiles and building on the sewing techniques that she learned from her mother and grandmother. The Art Institute is presenting the first solo exhibition of Butler's work, collecting more than 20 of her vibrant portrait quilts.

Steppenwolf What is Left, Burns
Photograph: Lowell Thomas

28. Steppenwolf NOW

Theater Drama Various locations throughout Chicago,

With its stages closed to the public for the time-being, the Steppenwolf NOW programming stream is a way to see groundbreaking new theater without leaving the house. A $75 membership gives you access to six works, which will premiere between November 2020 and June 2021. Playwright James Ijames kicks things off in November with the concise 20-minute play What is Left, Burns, which follows a video call between ex-lovers at very different points in their lives. Other works to look forward to include Isaac Gómez's department store drama Wally World, Carrie Coon in a new short called Red Folder and Sam Shepard's two-hander Ages of the Moon.

Hideout Chicago, Cosmic Country Showcase
Photograph: Sarah Larson

29. Hideout Online

Music Folk, country and blues Various locations throughout Chicago,

Like most Chicago music venues, the Hideout is closed for the foreseeable future, but the beloved local institution is keeping its music, comedy and other programming alive online. Check out the venue's website for a complete schedule of upcoming events.

Photograph: Courtesy Womanish

30. WOMANISH Experience

Things to do Exhibitions 114 S State St, Loop

Showcasing the work of female and gender non-confirming artists, the WOMANISH pop-up is a five-story exhibit made up of multiple rooms and installations that explore womanhood from various perspectives. Visitors will be able to visit a recreation of a 1950’s-era diner, view a collage of vintage advertisements with women of color added to them and snap photos of a floral display. The pop-up has been modified with a new set of safety procedures, including capacity restrictions and plenty of hand sanitizer stations.

magic parlour dennis watkins
Photograph: Rich Hein

31. The Magic Parlour at Home

Theater Circuses & magic Various locations throughout Chicago,

Illusionist and actor Dennis Watkins dips into his ample trunk of wondrous effects, taking his long-running Palmer House magic show into your living room with streaming performances. Up to 10 guests can gather around a computer (cocktail attire is recommended) with a deck of cards and settle in for an evening of interactive magic and mind-reading, delivered via the internet. Only 30 tickets are sold for each performance, so lock down a date and prepare to have your mind blown.

The Neo-Futurists
Photograph: Ricky Kluge

32. The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral

Theater Experimental Various locations throughout Chicago,

The Neo-Futurists’ flagship show adapts to a world where social gatherings are restricted, launching new works with the funding of subscribers. Pledge a monthly donation to the The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral Patreon campaign and you'll have weekly access to recordings of 30 plays performed in 60 minutes (larger donations give you access to even more content from the Neo-Futurists). It's a creative way of keeping the longrunning show alive—and now you can watch it on demand!


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