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Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021


For more than 20 years, we’ve celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The event honors the legacy of his powerful voice, highlights the role that art and artists play in social and political transformation, and brings people together at the museum as a community connected by shared ideals and the desire to creatively raise our voices in a call for racial equity and justice for all.

Robert Sengstacke

This year, because we’re unable to gather at the museum, our annual King Day event will look different from past years. But there are still many ways to engage with the museum virtually, to creatively connect with one another around our shared commitments to racial equity and justice, and to find inspiration for celebrating and connecting with communities in Chicago. 

Below you’ll find live and recorded programs available beginning the week of January 18, prompts for creative projects to engage in as a family, and resources for taking action for equity and justice, even from your own home.


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Rebirth Poetry Ensemble and In the Spirit
Monday, January 18

Inspired by the life and legacy of Dr. King and by quilts featured in the exhibition Bisa Butler: Portraits, youth poets from the Rebirth Poetry Ensemble and the performance duo In the Spirit featuring Zahra Baker and Emily Hooper Lansana created original spoken word pieces and stories that weave together rhythm and song especially for this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Did you miss this event?
Watch the video of Rebirth Poetry Ensemble.
Watch the video of In the Spirit.

Andy Warhol

Virtual Talk: (In)Justice
Wednesday, January 20

This participatory experience, inspired by the museum’s collection and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” explores the many meanings of justice, resistance, and faith. 


Video: Picture This
Families with young children (5 and under) are invited to tune into a new Picture This. Pairing the recently acquired quilt The Safety Patrol by Bisa Butler with a children’s picture book, senior educator Melissa Tanner guides families on an exploration of ideas of safety, connection, and how we use our bodies to express our feelings and values. Get ready to look closely, dive into a story, and engage in creative play together as a family.

Video: The Two Visits
By avery r. young and Amir George

Combining found archival film and images with powerful spoken word and funk- and blues-inspired music, this new video work by interdisciplinary artist avery r. young and filmmaker Amir George remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s two visits to Chicago between 1965 and 1967. King, along with Al Raby and James Bevel, was a leader of the Chicago Freedom Movement, a campaign to use the nonviolent methods of the civil rights movement to challenge systemic racism and segregation in housing, education, and employment in Chicago and its suburbs.

Video: Some Dawn
By Kiki Lechuga-Dupont and Growing Concerns Poetry Collective

Responding to the exhibition Bisa Butler: Portraits, artist Kiki Lechuga-Dupont creates an animated visualization of intersecting themes within the work of Butler and music artists Growing Concerns Poetry Collective. Its bright, meditative design aspires to reflect a sense of spirit, pride, and community.


Make a Family Portrait
Explore the quilted portraits of Bisa Butler for inspiration and then make a colorful portrait that honors your family members using materials that are easy to find around the home.

Butler’s vibrant, intricately layered textiles, featured in the exhibition Bisa Butler: Portraits, vividly captures personal and historical narratives of Black life. Often based on historic photographs of well-known and unidentified Black men, women, and children, her quilts explore themes of family, community, migration, youth, and artistic legacies. Learn more about Bisa Butler’s portrait subjects from curator Erica Warren.

Read and Discuss
Looking for ways to use works of art as a spark for conversation about identity and racial justice? The article Art as a Catalyst: Three Ways to Talk with Children about Race offers strategies for pairing works of art with picture books to engage children in recognizing race and difference and affirming their identities. 

Explore Art and Activism
Use the special Art and Activism highlights tour to delve into the various ways that art can challenge cultural norms and provoke social transformation. 


Racial Justice Resources
This past summer Art Institute staff compiled this set of resources that includes actions you can take, free mental health resources, local and national social justice organizations, articles and organizations committed to ending police brutality, resources for learning and talking about race and racism, and more. 

Folded Map Project Action Kit
Guided by the Folded Map™ Project, the Folded Map Action Kit is a packet of items to help you further your understanding of the disparities between Chicago neighborhoods, the structural reasons behind them, and ultimately to make new connections to an area you’ve never been or where you have only a narrow understanding.

36 Questions for Civic Love
Civic love is one’s love for society, expressed through a commitment to the common good. We manifest it through all kinds of actions—volunteering, marching, speaking against systemic injustice, making reparations—but the love itself is the emotional heart of the work. The 36 Questions for Civic Love Participant’s Guide was produced by the National Public Housing Museum.

Chicago Children’s Theater Walkie Talkies
Families can listen to these original audio experiences together while exploring different Chicago neighborhoods. The first three Walkie Talkies are self-guided strolls through South Shore, Little Village, and around the North Pond Nature Sanctuary in Lincoln Park. Each episode was commissioned by Chicago Children’s Theatre and created by a different local theater artist, resulting in a fun and educational new audio series that children and families can enjoy together, outdoors and safely, even over the winter months, while learning more about the beautiful city they live in.

Liberation Library
Liberation Library provides books to youth in prison to encourage imagination, self-determination, and connection to outside worlds of their choosing. Access to books is a right, not a privilege. Books and relationships empower young people to change the criminal justice system. While direct volunteer opportunities have been temporarily suspended, there are still multiple ways to be involved in getting books to youth in prison.  

The Greater Chicago Food Depository
The Greater Chicago Food Depository is Cook County’s local food bank. Working with a network of more than 700 partner agencies and programs including food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, they provide food and hope for our neighbors in need every day. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is committed to ending hunger and its root causes, including racial inequity. They are still actively accepting volunteers to help in their warehouse, including youth volunteers.

The Love Fridge
The Love Fridge is a Chicago mutual aid group grounded in food, working to place community refrigerators across the city. They are powered by kindness, generosity, love, and the belief that being able to feed yourself is a right, not a privilege, and their goal is to nourish our communities while combating food scarcity and food waste and working with other like-minded community partners. They have placed 23 community fridges across Chicago and built shelters to withstand the elements. Through these fridges, they distribute 8,000 pounds of food per week. They offer several ways to become involved, including donating food and volunteering to manage a fridge.

My Block My Hood My City
My Block My Hood My City is a social impact organization that provides exposure-based education programs for teens and a network of volunteer initiatives that serve Chicago communities year-round. There are a range of opportunities to participate and support their ongoing work to curb violence, support small businesses, and provide basic necessities to seniors in communities across Chicago. 

As we mark this special and solemn day, we hold ourselves accountable to our museum’s history of white privilege and exclusion, not only in the representation of artists in our collection but also of those in our community who have felt unwelcome in our spaces. We also acknowledge that the Art Institute is located on the unceded homelands of the Indigenous people of this region. The legacy of marginalization and suppression is antithetical to the museum we aspire to be, and through our programming, exhibitions, and internal practices, we continually work to confront the biases and inequities of our past and present, to embrace our civic role, and to create meaningful change.


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