The suburban communities surrounding Chicago, which boasts one of the most vibrant arts scenes in the country, are also cultural hotbeds. Groups seeking inspiration can partake in myriad experiences that incorporate the performing and visual arts.
Following are some ideas for arts-filled outings throughout the Chicago suburbs.
Northern Suburbs: College Town Arts and More
One of the main meetings players north of Chicago is Evanston, which is home to Northwestern University and, like most college towns, is an artsy community, according to Gina Speckman, executive director for Chicago’s North Shore CVB.
A popular hands-on group experience here can be booked at Bottle & Bottega, which hosts events that mingle cocktail party and painting workshop. Participants choose what to paint on glass, canvas or wood, and take home what they create as a keepsake.
Bottle & Bodega Painting Workshop
Evanston is also home to the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, where admission is free and groups often pair a museum visit with lunch in downtown Evanston, according to Speckman.
Over 1,000 timepieces, including tower clocks and pocket watches, and more than 30 masterpiece stain-glass windows are on display at Evanston’s Halim Time & Glass Museum, which opened in 2017.
“This collection is privately held, and there is nothing like it in the world,” Speckman said. “The museum has dining space for corporate dinners and there are great restaurants that work easily with groups within one block.”
Impressive arts facilities also await groups in Lake County, including David Adler Music & Arts Center in Libertyville, which celebrated its centennial birthday in early 2018, and Cuneo Mansion and Gardens in Vernon Hills, which is operated by Loyola University Chicago.
“Cuneo Mansion holds tours and also hosts meetings and other events at its pavilion,” said Jonathan S. Jones, content manager for Visit Lake County. “The Cuneo Mansion has a slew of unique rooms like their built-in church, a library and more.”
Northwestern Suburbs: Chicago's Airport Hub Has Culture
The area northwest of Chicago, which is home to O’Hare International Airport, acts as a springboard to Chicagoland and includes group-friendly communities that are filled with arts experiences for groups.
Dave Parulo, president for Meet Chicago Northwest, suggested planners check out Arlington Heights-based Metropolis Performing Arts Center and Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts, which is located in Schaumburg.
Metropolis Performing Arts Center, Arlington Heights
The 329-seat Metropolis, which hosts an entertaining lineup of events including concerts, comedy and cabaret, offers group discounts and also accommodates group gatherings in various on-site spaces.
The Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts also has an intriguing calendar of performances for groups to choose from, as well as several event spaces for off-site events, including the 442-seat main theater, lecture hall, conference room and lobby.
The 4,200-seat Rosemont Theatre, which also has spaces for business meetings and pre-show receptions, hosts more than 100 performances each year. According to Chris Stephens, executive director of Rosemont’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, special ticket prices for larger groups are available for most events.
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Stephens also suggested an outing to see THE COLLECTION, a multifaceted contemporary art program that includes colorful murals at Rosemont’s Fashion Outlets of Chicago.
“In addition to shopping-focused incentives for groups, THE COLLECTION provides an unexpected and engaging cultural experience,” he said.
And in Elgin, seeing the Elgin Symphony Orchestra at the Hemmens Cultural Center is “a wonderful experience for groups of all ages,” said Wendi Howard, sales manager for the Elgin Area CVB.
“Attendees can experience critically acclaimed, world-class entertainment without the hassles of the big city,” she added.
Also located in Elgin is Side Street Studio Arts, which facilitates classes and special events throughout the year.
Western Suburbs: All of the Art, None of the Traffic
Situated between O’Hare and Midway international airports are the cities of Chicago’s western suburbs, including St. Charles.
According to Michelle Cianferri, tourism development manager for the Greater St. Charles CVB, 116 Gallery, located inside Aveda Spa, showcases rotating exhibits and is available for group gatherings of up to 50.
“This modern and unique setting provides smaller groups a personal experience they are sure to remember,” she said.
Arcada Theatre, also located in St. Charles, is a Vaudeville-style venue where groups can hold an off-site event.
“There are concessions on-site, as well as the option for private dining at Club Arcada, a 1920s speakeasy-themed space located directly upstairs,” Cianferri said.
At the restored 1930s Art Deco Paramount Theatre in nearby Aurora, groups can check out outstanding Broadway productions such as The Producers.
“There’s no need to fight Chicago traffic when Paramount equals the Chicago theaters,” said Lisa Wisner, group tour coordinator for the Aurora Area CVB.
Situated nearby Aurora on the Fox River in Plano is the Farnsworth House, which Wisner said is the ultimate expression of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s vision for modern architecture. Group tours are offered year-round, and on-site events including cocktail receptions and lunches.
Two venues for hands-on experiences are available for groups in Lisle: ClaySpace Ceramic Arts Center and The Collective lhe + Makery.
The former, according to Diane Homolka, executive director for the Lisle CVB, is all about making pottery.
ClaySpace Ceramic Arts Center, Lisle
“Groups can learn about techniques in throwing and building clay pieces and delve even deeper into the medium by learning more advanced skills such as surface decoration and glazing,” she said.
And at the Collective lhe + Makery, groups will find a rustic-chic boutique that sells a curated selection of home decor, plus a variety of workshops ranging.
Elsewhere in DuPage County is Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Drury Lane Theatre, which is known for Broadway-caliber productions like Mary Poppins, and the Glen Ellyn, Ill.-based McAninch Arts Center, where the schedule includes everything from concerts to comedy shows.
According to Tiffany Lutka, marketing coordinator for the DuPage CVB, the theater provides discounted tickets for groups and has on-site meeting spaces and dining facilities, and McAninch Arts Center (MAC) offers customized entertainment packages.
“Exclusively reserved discounts and special benefits are available for groups, including engaging activities such as backstage tours or artist meet-and-greet opportunities,” she said.
Chicago Southland: Arts and Culture Thrive Here
The locales south of Chicago feature even more arts-focused outings for visiting groups, including University Park, Ill.-based Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, a 29-piece collection in a prairie setting.
“Make the trip to the Chicago Southland to experience these large-scale sculptures, which amaze your sense of proportion,” suggested Loren Petrakis, communications manager for the Chicago Southland CVB.
The Chicago Southland is also home to the world’s largest collection of Richard Haas murals, with 15 located in Homewood, Ill.
“These murals are a treat for the eye and make a fun adventure for anyone visiting this cozy art-centric community,” Petrakis said.
At the Crete, Ill.-based Lotton Art Glass Gallery & Studios, also in Chicago Southland, groups can experience the thrill of watching colorful hand-blown glass works of art being created right in front of them.
At Heritage Corridor, also south of Chicago, groups can explore the city of Lockport, where attendees will find the Illinois State Museum-Lockport Gallery and Gallery Seven, both offering rotating art exhibits throughout the year.
According to Dan Mulka, marketing manager for Heritage Corridor CVB, downtown Pontiac is another fun place for groups to wander around during their free time.
“The city of Pontiac truly embraces Route 66 and groups will love walking the entire downtown searching for 24 murals along the buildings painted by the ‘Walldogs,’ a group of artists that will take over cities during a several-day festival and produce amazing art telling the history of the area,” he said.
The centerpiece is the world’s largest outdoor Route 66 painted mural, which is on the outside wall of the Illinois Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum.
Chicago Suburbs CVB Contact Information
Aurora Area CVB
Chicago’s North Shore CVB
Chicago Southland CVB
Elgin Area CVB
Greater St. Charles CVB
Heritage Corridor CVB
Meet Chicago Northwest
Village of Rosemont
Visit Lake County