Chicago is a place that embraces its heritage as well as its status as a multicultural metropolis. The museums on this list paint a diverse picture of the city, complicating stereotypes and pushing visitors beyond what they thought they knew.Less
The National Museum of Mexican Art should be counted among the city’s top-tier institutions. Located in the Pilsen neighborhood, it features work that traces Mexican and Mexican-American artistic expression all the way from ancient civilizations, such as the Olmec, to today’s Chicano culture. The museum is the largest Latinx cultural institution in the United States, and though the collections focus on Mexican art, the institution also hosts events, like writing workshops.
Outsider artists are those who create art away from traditional institutional supports—and often suffer societal marginalization for discriminatory reasons (including mental illness). In recent years, some outsider artists have gained notoriety, but long before that wave of recent attention, Intuit was already on the scene, having started in 1991 as the first center dedicated to nurturing and spreading the work of outsider artists in the Midwest.
The National Public Housing Museum is a one-of-a-kind collection that explores the history, legacy, and problems of public housing in the US. Public housing has provided homes for over 10 million Americans in the past 100 years, but many parts of this legacy are often ignored as discussions about the institution often focus on just one thing: crime. This museum explores urban planning, the effects of structural racism, and the real stories of those who have lived in public housing complexes.
Lovingly restored in the 1990s, this Queen Anne–style house in Oak Park was Ernest Hemingway’s home for the first six years of his life. These days, the museum serves as a shrine of sorts to the Nobel Prize–winning novelist offering tours that explore the influence of Hemingway’s childhood on his later work. The museum also hosts a variety of events that explore the author’s legacy in creative ways—and even sponsors a writer-in-residence.
The MoCP is a boundary-pushing collection of photography located within Columbia College Chicago. Despite occupying a fairly small space, it manages to stage excellent thematic exhibitions with work from both well-known and up-and-coming artists. Only a tiny proportion of its archives are on view—the museum is home to over 16,000 works—but if you’re interested in a specific piece, you can arrange for a private viewing with museum staff (if you schedule at least two weeks in advance).
Chicago has the second-largest population of Ukrainian-Americans in the US (after New York City), and there’s even a whole neighborhood named Ukrainian Village. This museum, located in the heart of that enclave, documents hundreds of years of Ukrainian history and celebrates a culture currently under attack. The folk art collection has over 10,000 objects, including clothing, paintings, and historical items, making it one of the most impressive outside Ukraine.
The Chicago Federal Reserve Bank is one of 12 branches that make up the central bank of the United States, and this location, in the middle of the Loop, brings in millions of dollars of cash every day from banks around the Midwest. At this museum, located on the bank’s first floor, you can learn about the federal banking system and how it keeps investments safe.
This museum in the South Side is the only children’s museum in the country specifically geared toward African American families. Named after the neighborhood of Bronzeville, where many Black families settled during the Great Migration, the museum celebrates African American history and provides a space for children to explore their roots. Of course, kids from all backgrounds are welcome, and after your visit, you can take a tour of the area to learn more about the South Side.
Kink communities played an important but often-forgotten role in the gay liberation movement. This museum, in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park, commemorates the history of one such group: the leather community, which arose out of gay bars in the 1950s and ‘60s. Visitors can see collections of leather outfits and toys from around the country then explore the museum’s extensive print archives. Admission is limited to adults only.
The Pullman neighborhood became known as the site of major struggles for both unionized labor and African American rights. Now a national historic park, the area saw the labor strike of 1894, which was one of the biggest in US history up to that point—and resulted in the arrest of labor leader Eugene V. Debs. Thirty years later, the site also played an important role in African American history when the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, led by A. Philip Randolph, decided to unionize.