My City Art

Visionary Chicago Curator Carla Acevedo-Yates Offers a Guide to Her Local Haunts, From Overflowing Antique Shops to Crucial Artist-Run Spaces

Carla Acevedo-Yates at the Museum of Contemporary Art. All clothing by J.Crew. 

To celebrate J. Crew’s Local Time Tour, CULTURED tapped a group of chefs, curators, and designers across the East Coast and Midwest to share their My City guides—intimate maps of the cities they call home—all while dressed head to toe in their favorite J. Crew looks.

In Downtown Chicago, where Carla Acevedo-Yates spends her days as the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Marilyn and Larry Fields curator, she’s surrounded by a jumble of landmarks from different architectural eras. The towering, glass Hancock building casts a shadow over the limestone Water Tower, a relic that survived the infamous, all-consuming Chicago Fire of 1871. The MCA itself, situated by the perpetually bustling Magnificent Mile, is an imposing Chicago School-inspired structure with a formidable staircase that spills from its aluminum-and-limestone facade.

Inside the institution, Acevedo-Yates has brought her expertise in Caribbean and Latin American art movements to bear with undertakings such as a mural commission from Argentinian artist Ad Minoliti, or a solo presentation of Carolina Caycedo’s work—the first fully bilingual exhibition staged at the MCA, and one of only a handful of solo shows by a Latin American woman artist in the institution’s history.

The curator got her start as a writer in San Juan before moving to New York to complete a master’s in Curatorial Studies at Bard, eventually making her way to Chicago at the behest of Michael Darling—former MCA Chief Curator—who recruited her for her current role. “I had only been to Chicago a few times; once for an art opening and a second time for a Bad Bunny concert,” she admits. “After almost five years, I can say that I love this city and the communities that I am a part of here.”

The first thing transplants like Acevedo-Yates learn when they touch down in the Second City is how much there is to see beyond the cluster of glittering skyscrapers downtown. “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, 77 to be exact,” explains the curator, who herself resides along the water on the North Side. Here, with help from J. Crew ahead of the brand's Local Time Tour, Acevedo-Yates shares what she’s learned about traversing the city and its growing art scene—from insider antiquing haunts to a perfectly planned Sunday gallery crawl.

Acevedo-Yates at the Broadway Antique Market.

What is one local restaurant you can actually get into for brunch?

I live in Edgewater, and my favorite local brunch spot is Tweet. It’s next to Big Chicks, which is my favorite bar and one of the most iconic queer bars in the city. It can get crowded, but you can usually wait by the bar while you have a drink. The walls are packed with art, including photographs by Lee Friedlander, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, and Diane Arbus. The owner, Michelle Fire, is a collector and very knowledgeable about contemporary art.

Name one of your favorite Saturday afternoon activities.

I like hitting the antique shops on Saturdays. My favorite spot is Broadway Antique Market in Edgewater. It’s a two-floor shop overflowing with clothing, furniture, homeware, and vintage jewelry. They have a bin full of vintage photographs that is really fun to sift through. I have a few pieces I purchased there, including a mid-century side table and some vintage glassware.

What are a few underrated art-viewing spots in the city?

There is a rich history of artist-run spaces in Chicago; for decades they have played an important role in the local arts community by exhibiting both established and emerging artists. They are experimental spaces for the presentation of contemporary art, but also social spaces for gathering and conversation.

Where do you go to escape the crowds?

My neighborhood, Edgewater. It is far enough from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still a part of Chicago. It’s close to Lake Michigan, hence the name, and I often go for walks around Foster Beach and the lakefront. My local yoga studio and my apartment are my refuge. I have a busy work and travel schedule, so I love spending time at home. I have a western view of the city from my condo that is very cinematic. I just found a cool coffee shop and bookstore nearby in Andersonville, The Understudy. It has a relaxed and inspiring atmosphere for reading and writing.

What’s the best neighborhood for a visitor to stay in?

I would either stay in the Gold Coast, near the MCA Chicago, or the Loop. The two hotels I would recommend are the 21c Museum Hotel, which has a fantastic art collection, and the Chicago Athletic Association, a 130-year-old historic architectural landmark with great restaurants and lots of cozy spaces to hang out.

Best place for a coffee meeting?

Hands down Marisol at the MCA. It’s convenient and in one of the best museums in the world.

Your ideal Sunday art-viewing itinerary?

I usually stay around my neighborhood on Sundays and avoid going Downtown. But my ideal art-viewing itinerary would be to go to the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago and then hit the galleries around the West Town area of the city: Patron, Mariane Ibrahim, Monique Meloche, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Document, Volume, Western Exhibitions, David Salkin, and Rhona Hoffman, to name a few.


Name your favorite place to shop for gifts.

I purchase most of my gifts at the MCA store. Our team works with local and international designers, creatives, and makers to bring some of the most unique items you will find in the city.

What is one thing that newcomers often get wrong about Chicago?

Chicago is a city misunderstood. One of the greatest myths is that the food here isn’t good—but the culinary scene is very sophisticated. Chicago is not just about deep-dish pizza, steak houses, and hot dogs, although some of these are quite good. There are many Michelin-starred restaurants and the transcultural population of the city has produced a diverse food culture, ranging from street food to fine dining.

What’s your main tip for getting the most out of the city?

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, 77 to be exact, and they are all very diverse. I would recommend taking the time to go to different neighborhoods around the city—like Paseo Boricua/Humboldt Park, Pilsen, and Uptown/Argyle—and learning about their unique history and vibrant food culture. Also, a walk on the lakefront is a must. It’s an important part of city life and Chicago history.

J.Crew is hosting store events in four cities across the country along with their Creative Directors Olympia Gayot and Brendon Babenzien. Find out more here. For insider tips on how to navigate cities around the globe, check out David Castillo's guide to Miami, Bethany Heinze's tour of Charleston, and Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel's advice for visiting Paris