The Chicago Arts District really started in 1914 when John and Elizabeth Podmajersky, Slovak Immigrants, settled in the Pilsen East area and purchased property for a dairy. They soon bought more properties for their business and for housing of their immigrant employees. In the 1950’s, their son returned to the neighborhood to revitalize the community and converted older buildings into artists’ lofts around a series of urban gardens created from reclaimed alleys.
The third generation, John Podmajersky III, bought more properties in 1987 and in 2002 launched the Chicago Arts District with “the goal of creating a destination art community and economic stability for artists looking to become entrepreneurs”.
The District today now has a number of contiguous blocks of creative space. Live and work spaces, gallery, loft, studio, office, industrial, and exhibition space are all offered by Podmajersky, Inc. “During the last ten years, the Chicago Arts District staff, working closely with the team at Podmajersky, Inc., has supported more than 100 creative entrepreneurs in starting, growing, and marketing their art businesses”.
The 25+ galleries and studios are centered along S. Halsted in the 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2000 blocks. Be flexible as due to COVID in 2020 to 2022, there have been some closings.
2nd Fridays Gallery Night: On the second Friday of each month, the galleries and studios are open to the public. The receptions begin at 6:00 pm and run until 10:00 pm. You can get a map at 1821 S. Halsted. Galleries are also open in late September during the annual Pilsen East Artists’ Open House. It is a fun way to explore the neighborhood and see some great art.
Kristoffer’s Cafe & Bakery: During your exploration of the galleries, stop in at Kristoffer’s for a sandwich, coffee or a piece of their amazing tres leches cake. 1733 S. Halsted.
Down the street is, Chocolat Uzma Sharif, a small shop for handcrafted chocolates, ice cream and pastries. 1900 S. Halsted
Just west of the the Arts District is a great new find, Mana Contemporary at 2233 S. Throop. This is an old warehouse building that has been turned into a major art center and destination. The building is now home to artists studios, exhibition spaces, classrooms, a central cafe, a library and more. You will find over 60 artists specializing in painting, sculpture,, print making, photography, dance, film, sound, and performance work alongside each other in a campus environment. Here you will find artists including photographer Barbara Kasten and artist Lucy Wood Baird. They feature tours, exhibition and monthly art walks. They have a similar facility in Jersey City, NJ.