Stony Island Arts Bank

Top choice in Chicago

Artist-activist Theaster Gates bought a tumbledown bank building for $1 in Chicago's neglected South Shore neighborhood, and transformed it into a fascinating African American cultural center and gallery. Staff give tours of the hodgepodge collections, including the 5000-album vinyl trove of local DJ Frankie Knuckles (the Godfather of House Music) and a roomful of racist 'negrobilia' items. Hours vary depending on season and exhibitions, so check the website before heading out.

The vintage glass lantern slides (60,000 of them, of art through the ages) and stacked-to-the-rafters library of African American art and history books are other cool sets to browse, along with the main floor exhibitions. Workshops and events take place regularly. And it's all free.

Gates is involved in many projects in the area, including the Arts Incubator in Washington Park.

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