Attending a liberal arts college in Chicago has probably given you a real appreciation for the city and its unique, frequently risky and ground-breaking cultural heritage. And your classroom experiences have no doubt given you ample opportunity to digest, discuss and argue the finer points of some pretty impressive primary sources - material that could well have been perceived as radical in its own time.
Chicago shares its dangerously optimistic approach to art, as well as close economic ties, with 28 other cities around the world. The Sister Cities program began in 1960 and since then has spread across the globe. It is known as Chicago Sister Cities International and in 2013, the program became an independent division of World Business Chicago.
While the emphasis of the program is clearly trade, students at liberal arts university in Chicago will be interested to know that the cities selected have, either by chance or intent, a similar history of provocative art and literature. These cities include:
No, not Athens, Georgia, which admittedly did give the world REM. Since 1997, Chicago has been sister cities with the Athens that gave the world democracy and western culture itself - the one in Greece. This city produced some of the great works that are core to any liberal arts education.
It also produced and continued to produce some of the more controversial thinkers, artists and ideas. Socrates, probably the first “gadfly of the state” lived and died in Athens. In fact, it was Athens that put him to death for “corrupting the youth” with his work which exposed the failings of those in power.
These days, Athens isn’t putting controversial artists and thinkers to death; in fact, the city welcomes them. Last summer, they invited graffiti artists from across Europe to paint the town with street art that is often frowned upon and illegal in many other cities.
Toronto and Chicago have been sister cities since 1991. In that time, the city which was once known as “Toronto the Good” has really transformed into “Toronto the Daring.”
Edgy work gets screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Toronto Underground Film Festival and the Toronto Urban Film Festival (this one only plays in the subway - literally). There is an acceptance and encouragement of graffiti in some areas, even when the murals are controversial. There is also a very active and boundary-pushing theatre scene.
Looks like Chicago has rubbed off on the largest city in Canada.
The capital of Poland was the first Chicago sister city. This pairing happened in 1960, back when Warsaw and the rest of Eastern Europe was still under Soviet rule.
Art and culture that clashes with the norms of the state are generally forced underground during totalitarian regimes. In the case of Warsaw, only Realism was permitted.
While Poland is now democratic, the underground ethos continues. Warsaw is home to a very healthy underground electronic music scene featuring mainly house music (a Chicago original) and techno.
Poland was also once under Nazi occupation and the Warsaw Ghetto was where Jews were forced to live and tens of thousands of them were killed. Recently, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan made it home to a statue of Adolph Hitler kneeling. Only people can't really tell that it's Hitler. The statue can only be seen from the back through a hole in a wooden door. From the audience’s vantage point, it looks like a small boy kneeling.
Some see this as a reminder that evil can appear anywhere, even in the guise of a small boy praying. Others find the statue’s placement offensive and disrespectful to the memory of those who died in the ghetto. One thing’s for sure: people are talking about it.
What’s your favourite Chicago sister city?