By Elliot Reichert
On his way out the door for a much deserved vacation in Wisconsin, Newcity snagged Daniel Schulman, director of visual art for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), for a few of his thoughts about what looks especially exciting in this fall’s arts offerings. Characteristically generous, Schulman pointed to the many museums, new and established, that are rising to the occasion this season. As the leader of Chicago’s public art and exhibitions programs, he might have also mentioned the many projects blooming under his careful care—we took the liberty to add one major DCASE initiative below. As Schulman says, these places are “an indication of incredible creative ferment in Chicago and the need to build new institutions to contain and sift it all.”
Alphawood Foundation Gallery
A foundation supporting, among many other causes, advocacy for the rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV/AIDS, Alphawood moved Chicago by opening a gallery to show “Art AIDS America,” an exhibition of art made in and about the 1980s AIDS crisis. Next they opened “Then They Came For Me,” concerning the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. Alphawood is transforming its advocacy into art for all.
The Floating Museum
Having taken to the Chicago River this summer, the Floating Museum is a roving gallery and performance space on an industrial barge like those once used to move raw materials and goods in Chicago’s big-shouldered heyday. Focused on collaborations with communities that have been historically underrepresented in museums, the Floating Museum will bring art to where it might have never have gone ashore.
The National Public Housing Museum
There could be no better home for a museum dedicated to the history of public housing in America than Chicago, where the rise and fall of highrises like Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes tell the tale of the struggle to make housing affordable and accessible to all. This year, the Chicago Housing Authority approved a lease for the museum at 1322 West Taylor Street, the last structure still standing from the Jane Addams Homes.
The American Writers Museum
Eight years in the making, this newly opened museum celebrates the written and spoken word through a deep narrative of the history of American literature and multimedia explorations of the creative process meant to inspire and instruct aspiring and practicing writers. Temporary exhibitions focus on particular authors or movements in American writing. Sandburg and Algren would surely have approved.
The Packingtown Museum at The Plant
The Plant began as an ambitious experiment in closing energy, material and waste loops in a disused meatpacking facility in Chicago’s historic Back of the Yards neighborhood. Tenants of The Plant—whether they are growing, baking or brewing—contribute to a shared economy wherein one maker’s excess is another’s starter. Recently, the Plant has taken up the task of preserving and sharing something different altogether—the industrial history and cultural heritage of Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the neighborhoods around it. The Packingtown Museum will tell the story of the Stockyards, highlighting the food system, immigration and neighborhood identity and the history of unions and labor in the industry.
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
No newbie to Chicago, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum nonetheless stands out for consistently bringing together art and social activism in visually evocative and historically informative exhibitions. This year, Chicago artist Aram Han Sifuentes brought her “official unofficial voting stations” to the museum to record the preferences of ex-offenders, permanent residents, undocumented peoples and other disenfranchised residents. The recent recipient of a generous National Endowment for the Humanities grant, the Hull-House Museum’s “Making the West Side: Community Conversations on Neighborhood Change” is a currently ongoing, multi-year project examining the West Side’s history with race and gentrification.
Chicago’s Year of Public Art
Chicago boasts an impressive collection of public art, from Daley Plaza’s Picasso to the murals along Pilsen’s 16th Street viaduct. In honor of this history and with the hope of invigorating the tradition, DCASE and Mayor Emanuel declared 2017 Chicago’s “Year of Public Art.” The city has funded a Public Art Youth Corps to work with community organizations to realize new public art projects as part of the Mayor’s One Summer Chicago youth employment program. Also funded is the 50×50 Neighborhood Arts Project, providing matching grants to aldermen who fund public works in their wards in collaboration with selected artists and residents. Dozens of Chicago-area art institutions and organizations have partnered with the Year of Public Art to showcase their ongoing work to cultivate Chicago’s art, bringing new visibility to the creativity that is already thriving across the city. The year’s culmination will see public art created across the wards and a month-long public art festival in October.
Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert is a curator, critic and editor. She is the inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University. She was formerly Curatorial Fellow at the Chicago Artists Coalition, Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.