For those lucky enough to live in Chicago’s vibrant Loop, opportunities to commune with your neighbors — and friends from around the world — are endless.
Loop community events are typically writ large. Even when they’re not technically events in the Loop — Lollapalooza, Chicago Air and Water Show, Navy Pier fireworks — the Loop offers great vantage points from which to take in the show either above or in the middle of the madding crowd.
Here are some great opportunities to join in events in the Loop:
Illumination Gala: Palmer House hosts this annual black-tie fundraiser — an evening of food, drink and entertainment celebrating the Loop’s cultural amenities – of the Chicago Loop Alliance Foundation, an organization of more than 250 area businesses and individuals with the mission of developing, supporting and promoting artistic, cultural and public events in the Loop.
ACTIVATE: Since 2014, this series of pop-up arts programs transforms urban spaces (alleys and the like) into free exhibition spaces where artists and the public mingle, explore and celebrate the arts a handful of times each summer. One recent event, held on the loading dock of the old Carson Pirie Scott building, focused on Chicago’s underground digital media scene, mixing music, visual art and interactive media.
Chicago Cultural Center: There’s always something fun and free going on — from art exhibits to guided architecture tours to lunchtime concerts — at this former home of the Chicago Public Library occupying a full city block at Michigan and Randolph. There is chamber music (Mondays) and classical (Wednesdays). There is taking in the building itself (the center is home to the largest Tiffany stained glass dome in the world). There are four major art galleries. There are some 700 free programs a year.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade: As Loop community events go, this may be the craziest, drawing by some estimates upward of 800,000 people. Chicago’s March madness is built around a relatively short parade — up Columbus Drive a half-mile, from Balbo to Monroe — sponsored by the local plumbers’ union. The parade starts at noon, but the banks of the Chicago River start filling much earlier as revelers watch the traditional dyeing of the river to a bright green (that process, strangely enough involving orange dye, starts at 9 a.m.). There’s no shortage of green beer and “Chirish” T-shirts.
Holiday fun in Millennium Park: In mid-November, the lighting of the official City of Chicago Christmas Tree draws thousands to Millennium Park and kicks off the holiday season with music and an appearance by Santa Claus. Ice skating both at the McCormick Tribune Plaza Ice Rink in Millennium Park and a quarter-mile ribbon at neighboring Maggie Daley Park add to the festive mood. Harris Theater in Millennium Park hosts Do-It-Yourself Messiah, a Chicago tradition for more than 40 years, where the audience serves as the chorus for an orchestra of professional and amateur musicians.
Christkindlmarket: Drawing inspiration from Nuremberg, Germany’s 16th-century Christkindlesmarkt, Chicago’s version has held court in Daley Plaza since 1997, bringing a bit of European charm to a holiday market noted for unusual and indulgent food and drink treats, and unique gifts and specialty items. Running from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, this is among the events in the Loop that becomes tradition.