Foreign cultural centers are under-appreciated assets of a city like Chicago. Often established by the governments of various nations, they serve as a sort of home away from home for the various expats and émigrés who are now living in Chicago. But their offerings to the rest of us risk getting lost in the noise of the city’s larger cultural entities, and that’s unfortunate. In addition to offering classes in the native tongues of whatever nation they serve, they often produce and promote singular cultural activities, from cinema, to literary, to academic forums to visual arts and dance. Instituto Cervantes, which opened a beautiful new space in River North a few years back, has an art gallery that offers a regular rotation of high-quality exhibitions, along with a spacious auditorium in constant use. We’ve caught flamenco performances, classical music, a panel on Spanish graphic novelists and appearances by Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists in the space, for example, along with an appearance of Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia at the space’s inauguration in 2009. What’s especially compelling about Cervantes is that, though it is founded and funded by the government of Spain, its mission is the promotion of its language, which means it features the cultures of all Spanish-speaking peoples, including most of Latin America. In a country where the Latino minority is becoming a major part of its identity, Cervantes offers Americans an easy path to increased knowledge and appreciation.
Instituto Cervantes, 31 West Ohio, (312)335-1996, chicago.cervantes.es
Audience Choice: DANK-Haus, 4740 North Western, (773)561-9181, dankhaus.com
Best of Chicago 2012