A liberal arts education is all about studying great works in their original form, generating original insights, and thinking outside the box. Students at liberal arts colleges in Chicago have the advantage of living in a city where some great, innovative art forms were created and nurtured. Studying here is like getting a liberal arts bachelor degree with a side of authentic cultural heritage.
Deep dish pizza isn’t the only thing born in Chicago. The city has spawned original genres in various art forms. Here are a few:
Chicago poet Marc Smith wasn’t happy with the state of poetry readings in the 1980s. He felt people were just reading their poems and no one was paying attention. Moreover, people weren’t communicating with each other.
He set out to change that and started an open mic series called the Monday Night Poetry Reading at the Get Me High Lounge in November 1984. The format involved poets performing their work instead of just reading it. In July 1986, he hosted the first ever poetry slam, which began with a one hour open mic, then a featured poet, then the slam itself with judges and prizes.
The event, dubbed the Uptown Poetry Slam, soon moved to the Green Mill Tavern where it has lived ever since. It is still hosted by Smith and still follows the same format.
Over the years, it has inspired countless other slams across the world. San Francisco may have beat poetry, but the poetry slam is, without a doubt, a Chicago original.
In the early 80s, Chicago club DJs Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy and Jesse Saunders along with Chicago radio DJs The Hot Mix 5 started mixing original beats into the disco and electro funk records they were playing. In 1984, Saunders released On and On, a song with minimal vocals and elements such as the bassline from Player One's Space Invaders, the Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer, TR-808 drum machine and the Korg Poly-61 synthesizer. These became staples of the new genre which would become known as House.
House would soon spread to New York and other cities and by the 90s, House artists were being offered major label deals. People started creating variations such as Acid House and Deep House and merging it with other genres. Soon other cities had their specific House sounds, but Chicago remained the trailblazer.
Modern Improv Theater
Improvisational theater can trace its lineage from 391BC in Rome (the Atellan Farce), through the Commedia dell’arte movement in Italy in the 16th century, to the American Vaudeville scene in the early 1900s, and ultimately to the Compass Players of Chicago in 1955. That’s where and when modern improv theater was born.
While you may not have heard of David Shepherd's Compass Players, it’s where director Paul Sills first workshopped original plays using theater games. These games (written down by Sills’ mother Viola Spolin) became the basis for modern theater improv that was popularized at Chicago’s Second City, a company founded by ex-Compass members.
While the blues as an art form originated in the southern states, when it headed north, the first stop was Chicago. Chicago blues is an urban blues that usually features harmonica, drums, electric guitar, piano, bass and saxophone.
If flourished in open-air markets, at rent parties and eventually in clubs in the early part of the 20th century. Chicago blues greats over the years include Freddie King, Willie Dixon and, of course, the father of modern Chicago blues, Muddy Waters. Step back in time and check out the legend himself in this short video:
Do you have a favourite Chicago-born art form? Let us know in the comments.