Ah, the Arts. The Visual, the Performing, the Literary. In my last blog post, I recounted my personal experience searching for the perfect dance club on campus, highlighting just a few of the numerous student-run organizations dedicated to the performing arts. Of course, dance isn’t the only thing that’s happening year-round—it’s just one of many creative endeavors happening at UChicago. So this time, I’ll take you around campus (virtually, of course) on a hunt for some of our best artistic hotspots.
Logan. Let’s start at the place that most people have come to associate with art on campus: the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Opened in 2012, this gorgeous building stands 11 stories tall on the edge of the Midway Plaisance, overlooking almost the entirety of UChicago and the surrounding areas of Hyde Park. True to its name, the Logan Center is a hub for all sorts of art on campus, showcasing anything from cultural celebrations to student thesis exhibitions. Within those limestone walls, you’ll find an incredible array of arts facilities, including a performance hall, a screening room, a performance penthouse, a digital media center, two theaters, exhibition space, classrooms, studios, rehearsal rooms, performance labs… even a café! (The mango smoothies go hard.) I can’t tell you how often I find myself wandering into Logan, whether it be for dance practice, to watch a film screening, or just to relieve stress in the piano rooms before my next class.
You won’t just find tons of undergrad students flocking to take advantage of all this that the University provides, however. The Logan Center offers a number of resources to the public as well, hosting events including concerts, exhibitions, presentations, and workshops that anyone can participate in. One of my most memorable experiences at the Logan Center was actually from when I was still a kid— to celebrate its opening in 2012, a film festival was being hosted there for the community, and I remember going to several screenings with both friends and family. One was for the movie ParaNorman, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t blown away by the gorgeous stop-motion animation and graphic effects that night.
Smart Museum. Now, let’s take a jump to the other side of campus, to a place much, much older than the Logan Center. Nestled just between Campus North and Max Palevsky Residential Commons, the Smart Museum of Art has been around since 1974, originally dedicated as the David and Alfred Smart Gallery. From the beginning, the Smart was guided by an educational mission focused on teaching and researching art, as well as a commitment to making the arts accessible to the University community and wider public through its collection and special exhibitions.
As both a student and someone who has grown up in the neighborhood, I think the Smart’s mission has been carried out pretty well over the years. The gallery is free for anyone to walk in and admire, and often I have also found myself meeting there for class if a special exhibit pertained to the current curriculum. One particular course I recall visiting the Smart for was a creative writing class called “Writing the Visual Arts,” where we examined several artists across the centuries and wrote poems inspired by their works. We met twice in the Smart, once to look at a newly opened exhibit and again to view a few art pieces up close (like, very up close and almost personal). That’s one of the perks of being a student here— with the right class, you can get invited into a special room inside the museum to examine pieces in a far more intimate setting, without worrying over if you’ll accidentally trigger an alarm for taking one step too close.
Of course, the Smart makes sure to help kids get immersed in art as well. I still remember attending the weekly art events they hosted many, many summers ago, and have even recently found some creations—a tiny papercraft sketchbook, some clay figurines, a self-portrait in pencil—from my early artistic years. They’re not extraordinary in terms of craftsmanship, but it’s still endearing to know that these little works played a role in my discovery of art as a huge part of my identity.
Mandel Hall. Our last destination of today is none other than Mandel Hall, perhaps one of the most beloved and historic sites on campus. Standing in the incredibly ornate hall, you can just feel the grandeur and antiquity of a room that has experienced ages of remarkable art. Indeed, it was on Mandel’s 117-year-old stage that several historical classical concerts were performed. There, Samuel Barber conducted the first performance of his “Capricorn Concerto,” Aaron Copland first played his “Piano Sonata” for the public, Isaac Stern premiered Hindemith's “Violin Sonata,” and Gregor Piatigorsky introduced Martinu's “Variations on a Russian Theme.”
As the largest assembly hall on campus, Mandel Hall isn’t exclusive to just professional productions either. Basically anyone can use the space—mainly performance groups, obviously, but other lectures and conferences and even orientation events are held there as well. Since the hall was renovated and reopened in 2013, everyone seems to be taking advantage of the upgraded acoustics and lighting. Mandel isn’t alone in getting a glow-up, though. I went from sitting in the back watching The Nutcracker, not an ounce of dance in my 10-year-old body, to twirling around beneath the bright purple stage lights, immersed in the groovy pop rhythm of Taemin’s “Move” while the audience cheered in the background.
These three locations I introduced today are just small snapshots of the arts scene on campus—the full view is much, much too wide to be fully translated into a few paragraphs. While some programs have been put on pause at the moment, there are still a ton of virtual resources for one to explore from home! I really hope that more voices and work will be discovered at UChicago as we continue to grow as an arts community.