Waukegan is passionate about the arts. From theatrical performances to fine arts clubs, Waukegan celebrates its rich and diverse heritage through an array of cultural programming. Activities designed to enrich people from all walks of life are available in the city and surrounding area.
The crown jewel of the city’s cultural landscape is the beautifully renovated Genesee Theatre, Waukegan’s premier performance hall. The theatre celebrated its grand opening on December 3, 2004, with a special appearance by Bill Cosby. When the Genesee Theatre first opened in 1927, it had seating for 1,799 people and was constructed out of seven tons of marble, some from the famous Carrera quarries of Italy. It also boasted more than 1,200 yards of tapestries and drapes. The theatre closed for renovation in February 2001 after the Waukegan City Council voted to approve funding to restore the theatre to its original glory.
The new $23 million theatre includes an entire block dedicated to the performing arts. Space for holding rehearsals, smaller community theatre projects and cabaret-style performing was added.
The stage and balcony were also expanded. Box seats were added, increasing the seating capacity to more than 2,450 people so that the theatre may house Broadway-caliber entertainment. The theatre’s showpiece is its 18-foot Baccarat crystal chandelier, which originally hung in the auditorium of the Orpheum Theatre in Seattle, Washington. The chandelier weighs approximately 2,200 pounds and features gold plated sconces with six different types of light bulbs and thousands of individual pieces of crystal.
Waukegan also offers many opportunities for aspiring actors and performers to hone their skills and entertain audiences. The Waukegan Symphony Orchestra and Concert Chorus make their home at the Jack Benny Center for the Arts, which were named in honor of one of Waukegan’s favorite sons. The center offers numerous fine arts and performing arts classes and private music lessons.
The Bowen Park Theater & Opera Company, a professional theater company, offers a year-round calendar of delights. With its summer concert series, the Waukegan Band is a hometown favorite. They hold their concerts at the municipal beach in the Stiner Memorial Pavilion on Tuesdays in the summer. Waukegan’s downtown area is the site of a visual arts renewal, and many artists’ studios and galleries are proposed for historic Genesee Street.
Throughout the year youngsters delight in Bowen Park Theatre’s Summer Shows and Holiday Shows for Young Audiences, where actors perform for Waukegan’s youngest crowd amidst the background of the beautiful Bowen Park.
The Bowen Heritage Circle in Bowen Park offers classes and workshops in the arts, including painting, knitting, drawing and various crafts. To learn more about the city’s rich cultural heritage, visit the Waukegan Museum and the J.L. Raymond Memorial Research Library, part of the Waukegan Historical Society. At the Waukegan Museum, period furnishings, including many pieces from important Waukegan families, have transformed the house back to the high-Victorian opulence of the late 19th century. Additional rooms are used as exhibit spaces, showcasing items from the Society’s ever growing collection of Waukegan and Lake County memorabilia. The Historical Society’s research collections are housed in the library.
Dozens of local special interest clubs also play a vital role in Waukegan’s culturally vibrant community.
Both Chicago and Milwaukee are close at hand and offer major league sporting events, museums and area attractions. There are also hundreds of internationally acclaimed artists, entertainers and performers visiting each city that complete a full schedule of year-round cultural events.