Best of the South Side 2014 | Pilsen

Best Arts Reach: The National Museum of Mexican Art

Michael Roman, Taco Stand / Taqueria, N.D., oil and silkscreen collage on canvas, 36" x 29 1/2”, National Museum of Mexican Art Permanent Collection, 2007.39, Gift of Dick and Holly Altman. MICHAEL TROPEA.

When I was twelve years old, my oldest brother brought me to visit the National Museum of Mexican Art. I took in everything around me, excited to know that someone who shared my culture and experiences had created the pieces that I was seeing. When I think back to this first visit I remember knowing with a fierce confidence that my history and culture were important. On September 19, the NMMA held an opening for “Rito y Recuerdo,” its annual Day of the Dead exhibit. The event drew so many people that the museum staff was forced to turn away visitors, and even as they did more people continued to make their way to one of Pilsen’s most vital cultural centers. The NMMA boasts a great history coupled with an impressive permanent collection of 7,500 pieces. Founded in 1987 by Carlos Tortolero and a team of educators, the museum has since grown, not just in the scope of its collection and programming, but also in its impact on the community. Vanessa Sanchez directs Yollocalli Arts Reach, a youth education initiative of the museum. I recently had the chance to speak to her about education, Yollocalli’s beginnings, and the museum’s 60,000 students. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | South Shore

South Shore


It seems almost impossible that the geographical bulk of the South Shore neighborhood—running from Stony Island to Exchange and from 71st to 79th—encompasses only a few square miles of land. The neighborhood gives off the impression of being far more expansive. The commercial arteries are fat and long, stuffed to the brim with knickknack shops, convenience stores, and steam-filled restaurants. Stony Island is a massive six-lane thoroughfare cut along the middle by a huge median, while 71st Street and Exchange are both bisected by the Metra Electric tracks. Turn off any one of these boulevards, though, and you’ll find yourself on quiet, tree-lined side streets like 73rd or 76th, Paxton or Constance—streets filled with old houses where kids play in the street and men sit smoking on porches. Those same streets have seen the crime and gun violence that ranks South Shore just behind Englewood and West Englewood, the two South Side neighborhoods with the most incidents, according to Red Eye’s homicide tracker. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | South Loop

South Loop


In the lush, winding Women and Children’s Park in the Prairie Avenue Historic District, kids play hide-and-seek near a bubbling fountain while day camp counselors mediate tiffs between toddlers. A mother of two pushes a stroller, picking a few apples from one of the garden’s trees and stowing them in her backpack.  Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Washington Park | Woodlawn

Best Village: Blacks in Green

Greetings, cousins!” Naomi Davis’s voice booms across the crowd seated on folding chairs and hay bales at the Green Village Pavilion, a space of calm tucked into a corner of the African Festival of the Arts in Washington Park. Out on the festival’s pathways, women double-dutch in the shade. Reggae music floats over from the booth down the lane. 

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Best of the South Side 2014 | Chatham



Lanisha Byron steps out of Target and into the early evening on 86th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue, laden with bags of back-to-school supplies and worry etched into her face. “All I’m saying is that if he doesn’t do his homework on time this year, there’s gonna be consequences,” she laughs. Cottage Grove is busy at this time of day—with places like the strip mall here, Walgreens down the road, and a multitude of local businesses, it’s been one of Chatham’s commercial lifelines since the early 1940s. Even along relatively quiet stretches, Byron passes by people who greet her cheerfully on the sidewalk—the smiling men outside the neighborhood mosque, mechanics taking a break outside the auto shop, and Houston Myers, her neighbor and a resident of Chatham for three years. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Washington Park | Woodlawn

Woodlawn & Washington Park


Woodlawn and Washington Park sprung up in the late-nineteenth century, accompanied by a rapid influx of (primarily European) immigrant populations and increased industry driven by the 1893 World’s Fair. During the twentieth century, Woodlawn and Washington Park served as a hub of political and cultural activity: important figures from Saul Alinsky to Jesse Owens are associated with the area. Continue reading