Hull-House turns to ‘Slow Museum’ programs

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at UIC (click on image for larger file size)

Museums move too fast these days, trying to keep pace with competing  entertainments by presenting rapidly changing exhibitions, interactive technology and trendy cafes, says a museum director at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Lisa Junkin plans to hit “pause”  at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum with the Slow Museum Project. The project “re-envisions the museum as a site of recreation, reflection and respite,” said Junkin, interim director of the museum, and is inspired by the Slow Food movement. It will be funded by a $40,000 grant from the American Alliance of Museums.

“We’ve organized Slow Food programs for five years, and we want to apply ‘slow’ ideals — thoughtfully sourced ingredients, worker advocacy, savoring what we consume — to the museum experience,” she said. “Quick fixes may capture visitors’ fleeting attentions, but they also contribute to the larger problem of an overworked and over-saturated society.”

The museum is housed in the Victorian mansion that served as home to Addams and other reformers as well as headquarters of the Hull-House Settlement.  The reformers defined leisure as the basis for culture, and therefore critical to learning and socialization.

Today, the museum staff eschews most fast-museum techniques, yet works quickly to present programs that address urgent social issues — maybe too quickly, Junkin said.

“Ironically, we haven’t allowed ourselves enough time to evaluate our work and ensure meaningful visitor experiences,” she said.

Junkin says Slow Museum techniques can include unguided tours, an artist-made “reflection room” with musical components, playful visitor evaluations, poetry writing, communal meals and games.

She is looking at techniques devised by two early Hull-House residents: sociologist Neva Boyd, a leader in the modern play movement; and Viola Spolin, who is credited with inventing improvisational theater. Boyd wrote extensively on children’s games.  In a previous exhibition, the museum offered cards describing improv games devised by Spolin.

The museum also plans to continue its Slow Food and other programming. It has switched its long-running Re-Thinking Soup food discussion series from the hectic lunch hour to a more leisurely dinner time, with the next installment set for Oct. 17, 6-7:30 p.m. at the museum’s Residents’ Dining Hall, 800 S. Halsted St.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

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