Big city arts and culture in a small town atmosphere. Enjoy live entertainment, art galleries, history, and more in DeKalb County. Our Calendar of Events has information on events, exhibits, and performances. See a full listing of Art & History locations.
Start planning your trip using the new Discover Museums and History Centers Brochure. Click HERE, or the image to the right, to download the interactive PDF.
Learn more about Local History sites, the Arts Programs at Northern Illinois University, and where to enjoy DeKalb County’s Live Performances, Music, and Art below.
DeKalb County is the home of several historic locations, districts, and museums. The invention of barbed wired and industry related to agriculture have left a rich history across the county for everyone to experience.
Barbed Wire and DeKalb
The inventor and manufacturers of the new double wire barbed wire both resided in the City of DeKalb leaving great historic homes for us to enjoy today. The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and the Ellwood House Museum both offer a look back at the history of barbed wire and what life was like in the mid to late 19th century.
Museums and Historical Societies
DeKalb County is home to historic districts, societies, and museums covering everything from local to the natural history of the area. The Midwest Museum of Natural History is housed in a 140-year-old building, featuring over 100 mounted and 30 live animals, and provides many educational programs throughout the year.
The DeKalb County History Center (DCHC) builds exhibits based on the 150 years of history it maintains. Formally the Sycamore History Museum, the DCHC is a new joint history center collaboration between more than 20 DeKalb County history organizations. They will be opening a building in 2019 to house the Joiner History Room and other DeKalb County exhibits and information. The DCHC also offers tours and programming throughout the year to share DeKalb County’s rich history. The Joiner History Room houses a vast number of historical documents allowing for research of many aspects of DeKalb County.
The Malta Historical Society maintains several thousand documents, photos, and abstracts that document the Village’s history since its founding in 1856. The Society also runs the Old Town Hall Historical Building that is available to rent for events and meetings.
The DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association (DAAHA) works to collect, preserve, and share the storied history of agriculture and its innovators in Northern Illinois. DAAHA runs a gallery exhibit space out of the Nehring Gallery in downtown DeKalb that highlights many of the items in their collection.
Click HERE to view info and maps of Self-Guided DeKalb County Barn Quilt Trails and Historical Markers of DeKalb County Tours.
DeKalb’s Egyptian Theatre is only one of five (5) remaining theaters done in the Egyptian style and is the only Egyptian Theatre east of the Rocky Mountains. The theatre was completed in 1929 and has played host to future presidents, rock bands, comedians, movies and other live performances throughout its history. The theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and was renovated in 1982/1983 and reopened that fall. Whether you’re attending one of the theatre’s many events or just want to see the building’s amazing architecture, The Egyptian Theatre is a must see in DeKalb County.
Sandwich Opera House
The Sandwich Opera House opened in 1879 as the Sandwich city hall (first floor) that housed the city government, police and fire, and Opera House (second floor). The building was added to the registry of historic places and started renovations in the 1980’s. The grand re-opening was held on April 12, 1986. Once again the building functions as a community oriented facility, bringing community theatre, lectures, recitals, style shows, weddings and a wide variety of outstanding performers, ranging from country to classical, to its stage.
Stage Coach Players
The Stage Coach Players started in 1947 and got their name from the stagecoach used as their first box office. The group no longer uses a barn and stagecoach but does keep the enthusiasm of those original members alive in their permanent theater on 5th Street in DeKalb. The Players perform a wide variety of shows each season running from March to December.
Northern Illinois University Convocation Center
NIU’s 10,000 seat Convocation Center opened in 2002. The venue hosts 200+ events a year including NIU Sporting events, live concerts and performances, trade shows, conventions, and fests.
Music Around the County
DeKalb County has even more ways for you to enjoy music. The Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra plays a number of concerts throughout the year at several local venues. Visit their event’s page for performance information and locations. The Hopkins Park Band Shell hosts the DeKalb Municipal Band for concerts during the summer season as well as movies and other live performances. The Sycamore Park District’s Good Tymes Shelter hosts concerts and live events throughout the summer.
Find Art Across DeKalb County
Enjoy the Annual Northern Illinois Art Show as well as many art gallery locations and art studios. Northern Illinois University is the home to three outstanding art exhibition locations that host exhibits throughout the year. The DeKalb Gallery: Art Box features local artists both on their website and in their Art Box gallery location. The Art Box runs exhibits year round that feature all mediums of art. The Egyptian Theatre has exhibit space in its upstairs mezzanine. And DeKalb County is home to the Kishwaukee Valley Art League that organizes the Northern Illinois Art Show.
The Illinois Scenic Byway has posted murals and gazebos around the state, DeKalb County is proud to be home to several of these historic markers. View a full list of DeKalb County Illinois Scenic Byway Murals and Gazebos.
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb County is proud to be the home of Northern Illinois University and its many arts programs and attractions. Many of these programs have hours and performance schedules that revolve around the academic year, September – May. Please visit their web pages for the most up to date schedules and performance times.
NIU School of Theatre and Dance
The NIU School of Theatre and Dance has 100 days of programming each year ranging from new and avant-garde to classical ballet. Single tickets, as well as multi-performance packages, are available for the performance season.
NIU School of Music
The NIU School of Music holds 225 concerts and recitals a year covering a large range of music from classical to jazz, world music to experimental. Visit their YouTube page to view past performances.
Art Around NIU
NIU is the home of multiple art galleries and Museums featuring works by NIU art students as well as professional and visiting artists. NIU Art Museum’s mission is to service the arts curriculum at NIU and to extend arts education and cultural enrichment to the community. The Museum has a permanent collection of 1,000 art pieces and also hosts visiting exhibitions. The Jack Olson Gallery is the cornerstone of exhibition programming promoted by the NIU School of Art. This exhibit space brings thought-provoking exhibitions to the northern Illinois community while also offering faculty and students a space to showcase their latest creative endeavors. Gallery 215 is a gallery owned by NIU and it showcases NIU art students’ works and shows. All three locations are a great way to experience modern art from the 20th century through today’s art movements. NIU Also hosts an annual ARTigras to promote the arts in all its forms.
NIU Museums and Collections
NIU also features museums and a regional history center. The Center for Burmese Studies has an impressive 10,000 piece collection of Burmese Music, Art, manuscripts, and maps. The NIU Pick Museum of Anthropology houses over 20,000 items and specializes in Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and the Southwest and Plains Native Americans. The Blackwell History of Education Museum has a collection of over 10,000 textbooks and other educational documents. This museum and the Milan Township District #83 schoolhouse are open to the public by appointment. NIU Regional History Center’s mission is to “acquire, preserve, and make available to the public the most significant historical records of the northern Illinois region.”