The Scene Behind the Scenes at Chicago's ACTIVATE | Midwest Living

The Scene Behind the Scenes at Chicago's ACTIVATE

Duck into Chicago alleyways to find art-tastic happy hours this summer.

Consider the humble alley. So functional. So Chicago. So ... much fun?

At ACTIVATE, absolutely. Held once a month, June through September, this after-work event pops up in alleys and other unpredictable places, giving artists, musicians and performers an opportunity to surprise and delight the happy hour crowd. 

Music and arts meet the happy hour crowd at ACTIVATE events in Chicago’s Loop. Photo: K&N Media for Chicago Loop Alliance

Each summer rocks a new theme, which is expressed in a different way at every event. Last season’s “the alleyness of alleys” theme inspired an apropos garbage concept (“Wasteland: Dispose and Discover”) in July with a showpiece fountain made of golden-painted trash cans. Nearby, an acrobat in tattered tights performed somersaults in a spinning hoop as spectators squeezed in close to snap photos. Farther down the alley, a DJ dropped beats from a loading dock-turned-stage. Some danced nearby, while others sat on milk crates and shaped recycled cardboard into sombrero-size hats that looked like—gulp—rats’ heads.

Credit for the freewheeling free events goes to the nonprofit Chicago Loop Alliance, which launched the idea in 2014 to promote the city’s arts and culture and build appreciation for the district. This year, the Alliance is celebrating the city’s creative culture with an “EVO(lution)” theme, featuring EVO, a fictional creative muse who welcomes guests via video. The experience feels a bit like getting mission instructions from a virtual host on a theme-park space ride.

Track down the next ACTIVATE at You don’t have to register to attend, but you’ll score a free $5 drink ticket if you do.

Area eateries offer complimentary small bites throughout the event, and while the grazing will keep your tummy from growling, it won’t add up to dinner. Your best bet: Make this your first stop of the night and explore the Loop’s restaurant scene from there.

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