Public Art

In 1978, the Chicago City Council passed the progressive Percent-for-Art Ordinance, giving birth to the city’s robust public art program. The ordinance ensured a small percentage of the construction and renovation costs for municipal buildings would be earmarked for the purchase of original artwork. At least half of the commissions were given to regional artists, stimulating the local art market and giving greater visibility to artists whose work could be viewed outside of galleries and museums. 

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

The world-renowned Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, originally the Hubbard Street Dance Company, emerged in 1977 from a studio located at (you guessed it) the corner of Hubbard and LaSalle streets in Chicago. The studio was the home of choreographer/teacher/dancer Lou Conte, who had returned from Broadway in the early ’70s to open his own studio and teach tap dancing. Several of the dancers approached him about performing for the elderly in senior and community centers around the city, and thus a company was born.

Grease Premiere at Kingston Mines

On February 8, 1971, the city of Chicago saw the musical Grease as its creators Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey intended it: an honest, albeit sometimes vulgar and comedic, portrayal of Chicago teenagers in the year 1959. Grease was performed at the Kingston Mines Theatre at 2356 N. Lincoln Avenue, formerly a trolley barn. 

David Mamet, American Buffalo, and the Rise of Chicago Theater

The Chicago theater scene in the 1970s shot up with the force of an adolescent growth spurt. Suddenly tallest in its class, the emboldened theater scene was electric with possibility and willing to take risks. Lenient building codes accommodated storefront theatres. Grant money flowed toward artists who were talented, organized, and open to the moment. And the kid on the scene drawing attention to Chicago in a major way was playwright David Mamet.


Chicago cinema in the ‘70s was a filmgoer’s paradise. The movies were cheap. There were huge screens and there were tiny screens. Audiences were passionate and plentiful. The movies were new and groundbreaking, and everywhere you turned, you could catch a classic. Gene Siskel was the critic at the Chicago Tribune, Roger Ebert was the critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Reader had a whole slew of rotating critics that included feminist writer B. Ruby Rich and auteurist Dave Kehr.

The Chicago Reader

Every day, thousands of Chicagoans pause to stoop on street corners and in doorways of coffee shops to acquire a copy of the beloved and free alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader. The Reader was founded in the fall of 1971 by a crew of mostly unemployed friends, eager to supply the city’s broad-minded youth with a brand of journalism willing to dig deeper than the dailies.

Art in Chicago

In the 1960s, artist Don Baum was the director of the Hyde Park Art Center. He encouraged the work of a group of School of the Art Institute-educated Chicago artists that included Karl Wirsum, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, Art Green, and James Falconer by giving them an exhibition they titled “Hairy Who?” The show energized a generation of artists to come, many of whom worked in a mode entirely at odds with the wild painterly gestures of the Abstract Expressionists or the polished, ironic, commercial cool of the Pop Artists.

Walter Payton Drafted to Bears, Sweetness Follows

In January of 1975, Walter Payton was selected by the Chicago Bears from Jackson State as a first-round draft pick. “When I get through with Chicago, they’ll be loving me,” Payton stated after the draft. And love him they did. “Sweetness” rushed his way into the hearts of Chicagoans as a running back for 13 seasons with the Bears.

The White Sox Get a New Look

Widely considered one of the worst uniforms in the history of Major League Baseball, the Chicago White Sox uniform redesign of 1976 included short shorts, giving the players the appearance of grown men in schoolboy clothing. The large, floppy collars were also universally loathed and the uniform was said to resemble pajamas.

Michael Jordan Signs with the Bulls

One of the biggest sports superstars of all time was gifted to Chicago in 1984, when Michael Jordan signed with the Bulls. Jordan was the number 3 pick in the NBA draft,  after Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie, both strong centers who would go on to play for Houston and Portland, respectively. Quality centers were typically seen as the prize of the draft, considering how often they were the foundation of winning teams. But soon MJ’s success as the Bull’s shooting guard would change the association’s thinking about that.


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