Give these gifts that also benefit Chicago’s artists

Howard Reich, Nina Metz, Doug George, Scott L. Powers, Steve Johnson and Tracy Swartz, Chicago Tribune
·7 min read

If you’re a Chicago arts lover, you can give twice this holiday season by choosing a gift that’s fun to give and receive and also that helps support Chicago’s artists, performers, musicians and venues, most of whom are in need of some extra holiday funds this year. The writers and critics of the Tribune’s A+E section suggest these 12 items for your list.

Jazz Showcase gift card

Jazz clubs come and go, but one Chicago institution has been presenting the music consistently since 1947: the Jazz Showcase. Like all of Chicago’s music venues, the Showcase (806 S. Plymouth Court) has been under duress during the pandemic. Yet, in characteristic fashion, it keeps on swinging. One way to ensure the Showcase can continue to thrive is via a gift card; $25-$100 at

— Howard Reich

Facets marquee message

Like a lot of local cinemas trying to make the best of a tough situation, Facets Cinematheque has been offering films via streaming during the pandemic. Even though the physical location remains closed, the marquee is still up and running and for the person looking for something a bit splashier than a text or social media announcement, you can rent the Facets marquee at its Lincoln Park location (1517 W. Fullerton Ave.) to display a personalized message — to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, birth announcement, engagement or simply an inspirational message. The personalized marquee will be on display for a mutually agreed upon period of time and dates. Plus Facets will send you a photo. $250 at

— Nina Metz

Northlight Theatre Bee and Bat Houses

The north suburban Northlight Theatre (9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie) has struck on something really original. The theater at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts has been dark since the pandemic, like all Chicago theaters, and it also has a backstage full of old scenery, props and raw materials that it didn’t want to just haul to the dumpster, said production manager Emily Kneer. It also has technical director Bek Lambrecht and assistant Colleen Schuldeis, with interests in both sustainable practices and biology. The theater is creating and selling bee and bat houses for your backyard, all crafted from leftover set lumber and materials. Proceeds from the sales go to the theater artists; you can get yours in gray or Northlight Blue. And no, you don’t have to be a beekeeper; both houses come with mounting and maintenance instructions and the kinds of bees the bee houses attract will not swarm or build hives. And the bats will eat all your backyard mosquitoes. Price $50-$75 plus shipping (or available for free pickup) at

— Doug George

Space Venue Beanie

Space in Evanston (at 1245 Chicago Ave.) is one of the area’s most intimate and comfortable music venues. Like others during the pandemic, they have found it difficult to present shows, but they have been innovative in staging outdoor performances. As the temperatures drop, this soft, gray Venue Beanie with the Space logo created by PalmerCash makes sense for almost everyone on your list. $25 plus shipping at

— Scott L. Powers

Our Hideout tote bag

Before the pandemic, the iconic Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.) was waging another battle, with the nearby Lincoln Yards development. Then coronavirus struck and the venue has moved to presenting artists virtually. In keeping with its strong Chicago focus, the Hideout sells a custom Our Hideout tote bag, with a design by local musician/artist Jon Langford (who receives $1 for every purchase). Langford’s design is a perfect flexion of the club’s vibe, screen printed on black heavy canvas. $14 plus shipping at

— Scott L. Powers

Smelly Chalk

Smelly Chalk is just what it sounds like and each color of sidewalk chalk has its own scent: Green is “mint-tastic,” pink is “bubble gum,” yellow is “pineapple” and so on. Made by Zag Products, it washes away easily and is nontoxic and has no phthalates, aka plasticizers. “For the most part, Zag Products is just me, out of my apartment in West Rogers Park,” said owner Carolyn Crabb. “I was cleaning out some storage and came across a bunch of small samples of candle scents … a little while later I came across a post on a DIY blog about making regular sidewalk chalk. As a kid, we had those smelly markers and, of course ‘smencils’ and I thought, why not chalk that smells too? Is that a thing? So I experimented — a lot — and came up with some scented sidewalk chalk.” Smelly Chalk is just one of the many unique items for sale at, an online retail shop featuring local artists and small manufacturers that is run by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events along with the community-based art and culture nonprofit Public Media Institute, with the goal of driving visibility and financial opportunities to artists across Chicago. $11.95 at

— Nina Metz

Lucky Plush Virtual Dance Lab

The ever-resourceful Lucky Plush Productions has, like some other Chicago dance companies, turned to streaming performances and online classes for its audiences during the pandemic. Neither you nor your gift recipient need to be a dance fan or know a thing about the art form to find something at Lucky Plush’s Virtual Dance Lab. There’s a roster of fitness, dance and movement classes to chose from, all running through the end of the year and soon to be extended further. A few of the most popular have been Open Yoga, Beginner Modern and Cuban Salsa Fusion, said Lucky Plush’s Kara Brody. “Cuban Salsa is for everyone, from a little experience to a lot,” she said. All classes (hip-hop, ballet, you get the idea) are priced on a sliding scale of $5-$30 and all proceeds go to the instructors and the company. Virtual Dance Lab gift card are available; $10-$100 at

— Doug George

CIVL Chicago T-Shirt

Chicago Independent Venue League got started before the pandemic, to fend off a planned Live Nation club onslaught in the city’s Lincoln Yards development. But its advocacy by and for the city’s music club owners is more relevant than ever as COVID-19 keeps most doors shuttered. This T-shirt is a great way to thank them for their service by sending a few bucks their way. Plus it meets the first test of adding a new T-shirt to your collection: It’s got a great design — the diamond-shaped, bird-centered CIVL logo. $25 plus shipping at

— Steve Johnson

Field Museum Chicago Snowglobe

The Field Museum is selling a Chicago Snowglobe glass ornament that features a drawing of a snow globe showcasing Chicago’s skyline. The glass piece is handcrafted by Oak Park artist Laurie Freivogel. $24.99 plus shipping at

— Tracy Swartz

EB x Alicia Gaines Capsule Bundle

The Ukrainian Village indie rock club Empty Bottle, closed since March, is selling a “capsule bundle” of merchandise designed by local bassist/vocalist Alicia Gaines that includes a short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirt that reads “Killing Time Just Want Empty Bottle Back” and an Empty Empty Bottle mug and cap; $75 at

— Tracy Swartz

Ed Paschke Art Center poster

Get a vibrant, 29-by-24-inch image for the wall and support the Ed Paschke Art Center, closed likely at least through next spring but dedicated to furthering the late great Chicago Imagist painter’s legacy. The center didn’t know the roots of the high-print-quality poster, or the hopeful “Dawn of a New Age” message, but the image is Paschke’s painting “El Tropica,” a rendering of a sculptural goddess that was a highlight of a 1999 Chicago exhibition. $50 plus shipping;

— Steve Johnson

Music Box Theatre Combo Pin Set

The Music Box Theatre has been showing films in Chicago since August 1929 and its vertical neon sign on Southport Avenue qualifies as a Chicago landmark. Celebrating its 90th last year, the Music Box opened just two months before the Great Depression. Now the theater, along with movie houses and cineplexes across the country, has fallen on hard times again in the pandemic. Movie buffs can wear their love of the place on their lapels with two enamel pins created for the anniversary. Choice of pins or a combo set; $9-$19.29 plus shipping at

— Doug George


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