Chicago is not short on its supply of art and creativity. One place where art is thriving is on the city’s lower west side in Pilsen. In Pilsen, art is shown in many forms, from obscure art galleries to street art and graffiti. Much of the art in the neighborhood is based on the neighborhood’s Mexican-American culture, reflecting a strong connection to history and identity.
Since 1987, The National Museum of Mexican Art has been a hub for Mexican art to flourish in the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood of Pilsen. The museum was originally established to be a center for artistic cultivation in the community and a showcase for the world’s most cherished Mexican art. At this free museum, guests can visit an exhibit on Mexican immigration in the United States, a temporary exhibit on the works of Errol Ortiz, and the museum’s permanent exhibit, which focuses on Mexican identity from original indigenous art to modern pieces.
Think of it as an outdoor art gallery that extends for blocks. The murals on 16th Street in Pilsen have reached notoriety status. Longtime residents of Pilsen are more than familiar with the now iconic murals that line the concrete walls and span 14 city blocks. Anyone walking through the area is captivated by the spectrum of colors and range of stories told through the art. One of the oldest murals on 16th street is the depiction of faces of indigenous men, shown smiling, crying, and laughing. Created out of activism and a desperate need for art in the neighborhood, the murals tell the stories of the Pilsen community, from its indigenous roots to its growth in an urban environment. The 16th Street murals give a whole new perspective on what defines an art gallery.
The Carlos & Dominguez Fine Arts Gallery in Pilsen features art specifically from North, Central, and South America. Opened in 2005, the gallery hosts a range of events to showcase and promote arts from the Pilsen community and beyond. Art on exhibit at the Carlos & Dominguez Fine Arts Gallery has everything from paintings, sculptures, and mixed media to photography. Previous exhibitions have included a project from students at a Pilsen elementary school, an exhibit on political cartoons, and an exhibit on the changing identity of Pilsen.
Multiple art galleries line a couple of blocks on Halsted Street on what’s known as the Chicago Arts District in Pilsen. For over 30 years, the area has been a place for artists to converge and showcase their art to the community. Both established and emerging artists have their work shown in the district through an eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, and photography. Current exhibitions include the Oscar Luis Martinez Fine Arts Gallery and the Crude Creatures Contemporary Art Gallery.
Opened by three Chicago artists, Pilsen Outpost serves as an art gallery and retail shop for the Pilsen community. Pilsen Outpost focuses on highlighting pieces by local artists and selling everything from homemade toys to artwork and books. Throughout the year, Pilsen Outposts offers workshops on figure drawing and painting for its guests looking to try their hand at making their own art. Recent exhibitions include Sketchmas, an effort by 50 local artists, and Traces of Being, an exhibition on culture, identity, and gentrification by Puerto Rican artist Amara Betty Martin. By Alyssa Reyes