Chicago Basics:
Culture


Chicago's diversity in culture, both in terms of ethnicity and of artistic aesthetics, reflects the wide system of roots from which it has evolved. Settled in sequence by Native, European, African, Asian and Latin Americans, and crafted over a hundred-year period through a hybridization of Victorian, French Second Empire, Queen Anne, Belle Epoque, Edwardian, Modern, and Postmodern social precepts, its tapestry contains a deep richness of heritage. This textured blend, sometimes synthesized but often reflected in a heterogeneous eclecticism, remains latent but prevalent within the city's uniform grid of streets and carefully pruned downtown showplaces. Multiculturalism jumps to life especially in the "neighborhoods", those communities away from the downtown center that retain indigenous history and identity.

Fine Arts, scholarship, and the celebration of scientific achievement have long had a home in Chicago, highlighted by such keystone institutions as Northwestern University (founded 1855), the Art Institute of Chicago (1879), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1889), the University of Chicago (1891), the Field Museum (1893), the Museum of Science and Industry (1893), the Chicago Public Library (1897; relocated 1991), the Ravinia Music Festival (1911), the Lyric Opera of Chicago (1954), and in more recent times the Chicago Film Festival (1964) and the Steppenwolf Theater Company (1976).

The informal culture of Chicagoland and its colorful reputation carries at least as much weight in popular consciousness as its gentility or its major contributions to the global society. A place associated in the contemporary worldview with glamorous organized crime, blockbuster professional sports and notoriously extreme weather, Chicago actually lives its day-to-day life with an unpretentious, no-nonsense rhythm largely unimpeded by spectacle and at ease with extravaganza. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the bustling commerce of North Michigan Avenue and the rush of the summer festival season; the demeanor of many Chicagoans is an even mix of Great Lakes know-how and Great Plains congeniality.

Although dubbed "the Windy City" because of the loquacity of its politicians campaigning to host the World's Columbian Exposition, even many Chicago locals associate this cognomen with the city's blustery winter climate, in which freezing temperatures are common at least five months of the year. Winter features prominently in the city's seasonal culture, bringing with it elaborate Holiday decorations and celebrations. Chicago also makes a special point of St. Patrick's Day, the summer months, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, as well as festivities unique to Chicago and to the residents of its specific neighborhoods.

With its miles of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan, its elevated rail lines, its urban, suburban, and rural milieus, its large and gracious natural preserves, its sleek high-rises, its vibrant neighborhoods, its classicist and contemporary exteriors, Greater Chicago stirs both an invocation of the American generic and a declaration of its uniqueness. One could argue with some enthusiasm that nowhere else in the world are there so many distinct sensibilities and expressions under a single urban umbrella. Although it sometimes hides its exuberant cards behind a curtain of Chicagoite jingoism, the city is as multifaceted as the surfaces of its built environment and as organic as its wild flora.

Text Copyright ©2004

 

SOURCES

AIA Guide to Chicago. Alice Sinkevitch, ed. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993.

The Green Guide: Chicago. Greenville, SC: Michelin Travel Publications, 2001.

Johnson, Lorraine and John Ryan. Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guides: Chicago. London: Dorling Kidersley Publishing, Inc., 2001.

lyricopera.org - Lyric Opera of Chicago

northwestern.edu - Northwestern University

ravinia.org - Ravinia Festival

steppenwolf.org - Steppenwolf Theater Company.

Westfall, Carroll William. "Introduction: The Region's Communities and Buildings". A Guide to Chicago's Historic Suburbs. Bach, Ira J. Chicago: Ohio University Press, 1981.







Chicago Basics

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