NEA grant funds mobile museum project

Preliminary sketch of the History Moves display system

Preliminary sketch of the History Moves display system. Image courtesy of Julie Flohr.

The University of Illinois at Chicago has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to create a public history museum on wheels.

The $20,000 grant will be used to design and develop History Moves, a mobile gallery for the public display of history and art, to reach Chicagoans who don’t frequent local cultural institutions.

“History Moves is a space for enacting a project of collecting and displaying Chicago’s history,” says Jennifer Brier, UIC associate professor of gender and women’s studies and history and the project’s lead investigator. “It allows for a direct relationship between interdisciplinary scholars at UIC, community co-curators and the neighborhoods they inhabit.”

Community involvement will play a big role at every stage of the gallery’s development, Brier said. “While there are numerous mobile museums in the United States, none of them make non-professionals central to the work of making public history,” she said.

Prior to the project’s public launch, a team of historians, architects, graphic designers, and museum professionals from UIC will develop a full-scale model display system and floor plan for testing by focus groups. The final product of this phase will be construction documents for the design of one prototype gallery.

The gallery, which aims to increase the visibility of community-based organizations, will feature a flexible interior design. Early concepts of the layout allow for “changing spatial configurations that are vibrant and physically engaging,” according to Julie Flohr, clinical assistant professor of architecture and lead architect.

“Artifacts, graphics and digital technologies are carefully woven together in order to best present each curatorial project,” Flohr said.

The developers’ long-term plan is to present exhibitions for a seven-month period. During that time, History Moves will reside in accessible public spaces such as library, school or park district parking lots. Public programming associated with the exhibit will take place outside the mobile museum or in nearby publicly accessible space.

Sharon Haar, professor of architecture, who consulted on the initial design and urban strategy of the project, said the community co-curated exhibitions will travel throughout the city, drawing in new audiences and “crossing the social, cultural, racial and economic barriers that are reinforced by brick-and-mortar institutions.”

UIC was among 817 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive a 2013 NEA Art Works grant, which were awarded in support of projects in 13 artistic disciplines.

Community partners for History Moves include the Immigrant Youth Justice League, South Side Community Arts Center, Chicago Cultural Alliance, Chicago Freedom School and Read/Write Library.  Additional UIC partners are the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, which also provided seed funding.

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 in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

More information about UIC.

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