If there's one thing Chicago has going for it, it's art. The city is an ever-expanding canvas, stringing together world-renowned architecture, contemporary street murals and art-filled institutions. With such an abundance of inspiration already at our fingertips, it's no wonder why we overlook the scene in the suburbs. Yes—there's a scene in the suburbs. And lately it's thriving in a little place called Skokie. These exhibits in the village might not convince you to give up city life, but they'll certainly change any bleak perception you have of the 'burbs.
North Branch Gallery
Owner and curator Sonya Baysinger opened this spot last January, when she finally had enough of Skokie's dour art scene. "I wanted to bring back the celebration of art," says Baysinger, who teaches at Columbia College. She brings in controversial, cutting-edge pieces from seasoned artists all over the states; a mere glance through the windows of this gallery and you'll see there's nothing suburban about the work featured here.
Baysinger is also involved with IMODS (Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie) in an ongoing redevelopment project that jazzes up abandoned storefronts with local artwork. Unlike the professional pieces housed in her gallery, Baysinger uses the street-level exhibition to showcase works by upcoming artists, including high school students.
Skokie Public Library
As Manager of Public Information and Programs, Christie Robinson scouts the map for an eclectic range of artwork to feature in the library. Past works have included traditional Korean paintings by Young Ro Lee and photos from the local Skokie Photographic Society and illustrations by Alan Magee, who has had work featured in Playboy, Time and New York Magazine.
Library exhibitions change frequently, but there are a few pieces that have become aesthetic extensions of the building. Sculptures like "Swans" and "The Zen Bench," as well as an intricate painting titled "Piece in Vietnam" can all be found inside the library, while the more monumental sculptures, including a nine-foot tall, bronze Holocaust memorial, have a permanent home just outside the building.
Refuge: Center for Artists in Recovery
Talk about inspiration. Bill Current, a graphic designer and photographer, started this gallery in 2006 as a creative outlet for visual artists recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. The Refuge website states that most of the featured artists have "survived a living hell," and it shows in their captivating pieces.
Past exhibits included the aptly-titled "I'm Sorry." The exhibit showcased three-by-five images filled with heartfelt words and images that'll leave you standing awestruck in the middle of Current's small space.
Northshore Sculpture Park
In the late 1980s, the Village of Skokie and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District built an artful recreation area along the Chicago River. The bike path and sculpture park, an impressive combination of fitness and culture, run north along McCormick Boulevard. The path, running two miles long from Dempster Street to Touhy Avenue, is peppered with more than 60 sculptures from artists all over the world, including some of Chicago's finest.
Free guided tours are given monthly from May through October, covering a different section of the park each time. But if you want to see it all in one shot, you'd better go DIY. Download the self-guided tour from the park's website and bring it with you for directions and details on each piece. Cram your picnic basket full of goodies and make a day of it.